Finding a Grave

We went looking for this grave after seeing a request on Find a Grave.


After some help from “Big Bad John” at the cemetery office, we found it. (The office for Cypress Grove is across City Park Avenue in Greenwood Cemetery.) Turns out I could have just gone to the website and done the search myself.

I took a photo, posted it, and quickly got a note of thanks from the requester in South Carolina.

An old friend from high school, Georgie, pointed me to Find a Grave after noticing that we seem to visit the local cemeteries a lot. And it’s true — since we moved a year a go we’re closer the city’s big cluster of thirteen or so cemeteries. They’re closer than the park, very peaceful, and plenty interesting. Persephone likes to look for “fall down flowers” and put them back in their vases. I just enjoy the general atmosphere. If I can also take a photograph that will help someone in a remote place with their family tree, that just adds to the fun.

I did notice that the Cypress Grove and Greenwood Cemeteries were both much more crowded than usual, probably because All Saints Day is approaching. It falls on a Monday this year. All Saints is still a big deal in this Catholic city, a time to remember ancestors and spruce up the family tomb. It used to be a holiday at the University, but it seems to have fallen off the calendar in recent years. Xy also works for a Catholic school, yet they aren’t taking the day off either. That’s a shame in my opinion.

Santa Muerte

I recently noticed a small backyard shrine in my neighborhood.

Backyard Shrine

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first. I thought maybe it was related to Vodou or Santeria. Then, last weekend, I noticed the owner had put up a sign (English and Spanish) saying “Welcome to the Shrine of Santa Muerte.” The gate was open and you could go into the yard and visit the shrine.

The sign rang a bell. I seemed to remember reading about the Mexican government suppressing this religious expression sometime in the last year.

Sure enough, this Wikipedia article explains Santa Muerte is (maybe) a syncretism between Catholic Christianity and some indigenous Mesoamerican beliefs. Santa Muerte has been underground for a long time. Fascinating stuff.

Her day is November 1st, which is of course the Day of the Dead. If you care to pay your respects, perhaps you can visit the shrine in Mid-City and leave some cigarettes or fruit. I haven’t spoken to the owner and I really have no clue what’s appropriate beyond what I’ve inferred from reading online.

I’m not sure of the propriety of disclosing the exact location publicly. I’m thinking it’s probably alright, but I’ll err on the side of caution for now. If you really wanna know, contact me privately.


Yesterday morning I took my first yoga class ever. Through Living Social, I got a deal on three classes at TriYoga in Mid-City that was just too good to refuse.

Even though I’ve never done yoga before, it’s something I’ve regarded positively for many years. Ironically enough, for years I’ve often urged Xy to try it out. I thought a yoga practice might help her with her migraines and general stress. (And she did take a single “mother & child” yoga class this summer.) I always believed it would be good for me too, but never made it a priority.

What finally lit a fire under me, besides the great deal, is all the work I’ve been doing with contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. Yoga keeps coming up. It’s in the books I’ve been reading, it was discussed at the conference I recently attended, and some actual yoga practice will be integrated into a session I’m co-presenting at an upcoming conference. I figured it was about time for me to check it out.

The session was great. I was the only student who actually showed up, so I got some nice one-on-one instruction from a woman named Karen. Perhaps I should mention that I’ve done some very basic breath meditation over the years, and my occasionally exercise regimens have mostly centered on strength training. I found this practice combined the meditative breathing and the physical exertion with which I’m familiar in a way that was totally new to me. I felt very clumsy trying to do these new things with my body, but clumsy in a good way. It was not particularly strenuous; actually I think it was very gentle, but I can still feel it in my muscles today.

At the end, when Karen asked how I felt, I burst out in a big, uncontrollable smile. I felt great. I think I got in touch with my belly chakra or something.

Strangely enough, later that morning I learned via Facebook that my mother (a thousand miles away in Indiana) also had her first yoga practice this week. That’s some synchronicity. But it gets even stranger.

My boss has done some yoga in the past, and she’s also a notorious ailurophile, so I mentioned the “cat pose” to her. She came back with some remark about “downward dog,” which is something we didn’t do in my class. I had never heard of it before, but the unusual phrase got my attention. A few minutes later, I checked my e-mail and found a message from Religion Dispatches, a website to which I subscribe, with the title “Is Downward Dog the Path to Hell?

Reading the article by Andrea Jain led me to a post by Albert Mohler which asks the question, “Should Christians Practice Yoga?” It also led me to a talk by Mark Driscoll on the question “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots?

Driscoll equates yoga to “absolute paganism” and “demonism.” I found his assertions outrageous and wrong-headed, but also kind of funny. I have actually been quite interested in contemporary paganism lately, but I would not hesitate to describe Mom as a devout Christian. Who knew that we would have this in common?

In all seriousness, though, I find this strain of Christian thought pretty sad. It’s perfectly in line with other things I’ve read lately asserting that meditation is dangerous because it opens the door to demons. I’m sure my mother doesn’t subscribe to such a narrow view, and in any case, I hope she doesn’t let this ridiculous rhetoric discourage her. I think it’s wonderful that she’s practicing yoga, and I think its many benefits can be enjoyed without imperiling one’s Christian faith.

As the Jain article argues convincingly, yoga has become part of our Western cult of fitness: “Modern yoga is a reflection, not of ‘spooky’ Hindu gods or ‘demonic’ practices, but of our contemporary culture’s tendency to envelope physical fitness into the sacred routine of self-development.” I’d actually be interested in the connections to Hinduism, but I’m sure most American practitioners don’t get much into that.

I’m not worried about where yoga practice might lead, because I’m confident in my own ability to sort out right from wrong and to distinguish between what I truly embrace and what I reject. To quote Jain again, “One feature of consumer culture is that we increasingly have choices when it comes to the ideas and practices we adopt. We choose ideas and practices much like we choose commodities.” I used to find this sort of “shopping cart” mentality disturbing or repugnant, but I’m increasingly seeing it as one of the better aspects of our culture. There’s plenty to criticize about consumer culture, but if it empowers individuals to develop to their fullest potential then surely that’s positive.

Anyway, I am already looking forward to next week’s class.

Bela Lives

Hallowe’en is just around the corner, so here’s a mix for the occasion. It’s eight different versions of my favorite song of all time, by eight different artists.

These are my favorites from the notorious collection of a hundred-odd versions which is floating around the torrents somewhere.

The original is not included, but surely everyone’s heard that before.

Blank Screen

When I was a teenager, I used to read the comics section of the newspaper on a fairly regular basis. For some reason I’ve gotten into the habit again over the last couple months. The comics have gotten smaller and my eyes have gotten worse. Some of the strips are mildly amusing, while others seem like a waste of paper. I like the form; I like how a miniature story can be conveyed so briefly, with just a few images and words. One thing I find interesting, these days, is how I see general themes of cultural commentary that are common across multiple strips. For example, social media and text massaging are popular targets. Every now and then, one strip or another will drop something that makes me do a double-take.

I have to admit that “Hi and Lois” is not, generally speaking, one of my favorites, but it is certainly familiar. This is a strip I grew up with, and the characters seem almost like distant family members.

So… that brings us to a certain strip that ran last week. Let me recreate the basic plot.

Hi Flagston walks into the living room. He sees his wife sitting in front of their flat-panel television. He asks her, “What are you watching?”

Lois replies, “Nothing!”

Hi seems mildly concerned: “You’re not just saying that, are you?” He notices something isn’t quite right.

Lois answers: “Staring at a blank screen is like meditating.”

That’s right, the television isn’t on.

"Staring at a blank screen is like meditating."

To top it off, Lois is wide-eyed and smiling, looking vaguely desperate or blissed-out — I’m not sure which.

I believe staring at a blank wall is a practice in Zen Buddhism. I would love to see Brian and Greg Walker explore this new direction for Lois. Maybe she could start busting out some koans (like Zippy the Pinhead) or startling Dawg with a particularly piercing katsu.

My Sister

I had my phone turned off from Saturday night when I went to bed until after noon Sunday. When I fired it back up, I got a volley of three text messages from my sister via Twitter.

U still up? Txt me from ur personal.

For some reason she doesn’t have my phone number. She follows me on Twitter and gets updates sent to her phone. It’s actually our main way of keeping in touch, though it’s kind of one-sided. Mostly I post and she receives.

Five minutes later:

U still awake? Need to talk.

No, I wasn’t awake. It was two o’clock in the morning, I was asleep, and my phone was off.

Twenty minutes after that:

I see all ur random bullshit daily. U cant take 5 sec to talk to ur sister when she needs u. Thks.

And that’s my little sister in a nutshell. Quick to anger! She’s kind of like a female version of Steven Seagal — “the woman with the short fuse.”

After some phone tag and a further exchange of texts and voice mail, we finally got to talk mid-week. I don’t need to spell out the details here for the whole world to see. That might get my ass kicked.

Let me just leave it at this: I love my sister, but that late-night text message was too funny.

Thirty-Two Months

Tea Party

Dear Persephone,

On the first of this month, as we were riding the bicycle on our way home from a meeting, I heard you exclaim, “Look at that black man!”

I was a bit startled. What? Since when does my little girl identify people on the basis of race? Then I saw that you were pointing to a statue. I assume it’s made of bronze or something, but it’s tarnished and the metal does indeed look black. But the funny thing, to me, is that this was a statue of none other personage than Jefferson Davis.

Do I have to explain why this was funny? I don’t know when you’ll read this, assuming you ever do. I’d like to imagine a future where this moment really does need to be fully explained. Such a future seems a long way off, but indulge my fantasy for a moment.

You see, at the time of this writing, we divide people into groups in many different ways, and one of the biggest ways is racially. There’s no genetic or biological basis for this, but our culture constructs things this way, and these racial groupings are a pretty big fact of life today. Two of the biggest racial groups are “black” and “white,” which is kind of silly since these terms are based on skin colors more accurately described as “brown” and “pink.” That kind of conveys the heart of the problem, how these labels deny our essential common humanity and exaggerate differences. There are many wonderful things to celebrate in the rich cultural diversity of humanity, but this has also been the basis for much pain. It may seem hard to believe, but a lot of blood has been shed over these groupings. Our nation was built in part on the principle of one racial group exploiting and enslaving others. It almost ripped the nation apart. We live in the part of the nation which fought, among other things, to maintain this system of racial slavery. That was over a hundred years ago, but we are still living with the legacy of those issues. Even after the war, we maintained a social system that kept black and white apart and maintained the supremacy or one group over the other. In fact I work at a University that was founded to give black people an education because they weren’t allowed to go to white schools. The laws have been changed since then, but inequalities remain and racial separation remains and the pain remains. It’s still a big issue for us and a cause of much consternation. We hope that some day some future generation will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Yet I wonder if that day will ever come. My parents taught me not to be racially prejudiced, and I will try to teach you the same, yet the structures of inequality persist. Studies indicate that very young children — babies — will discriminate racially, preferring a white doll to a black one. You seem to prefer you black doll, but it talks and your white baby doesn’t, and besides that’s not the point. The point is, it will be tricky for you growing up in this racially diverse and divided city, nation, and world. Certainly it will be more complicated for you than it was for me, as I grew up in a city that was almost completely white. I care about such things. So I had a little twinge of anxiety when I heard you say, “Look at that black man!” So I felt a bit of relief when I saw it was a statue. And the fact that the statue was of Jefferson Davis, well, that was just the icing on the cake. Jefferson Davis was president of the faction that fought for slavery. He died here in New Orleans, which is why there’s a statue of him here. He remains a symbol of white supremacy, and the notion that anyone would call him a black man is humorous. It’s humor born of pain, but then so is most humor.

Except for puns.

Dang, I knew that would take some explaining.

Also in the last month, you started a sentence with “I think” for the first time ever. It seemed like another minor milestone, and indication that you are now capable of a certain amount of self-reflexivity. To further your intellectual development I taught you the basic structure of the “knock knock” joke. You also helped me play a prank on my co-worker Olivia.

I have taken to saying a chant together with you each morning. We go out onto the front porch to take the air and see what the weather’s like and we say this:

Good morning dear earth, good morning dear sun
Good morning dear flowers and stones every one
Good morning dear beasts and birds in the trees
Good morning to you and good morning to me

Apparently they say a version of this at the Waldorf School of New Orleans. I gather the original poem was written by Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian esoteric/mystical philosopher, so it was probably written in German. A number of different translations seem to be floating around.

I like it because of the nature focus. Perhaps it’s sinking in, because one morning I heard you say, “I like the planet Earth. I live on Earth.”

Virginia Lazarus

On Friday, with a little time to kill, my daughter and I stopped by one of the many cemeteries clustered in our neighborhood.

Dispersed of Judah

I’d been in this one before, but I came through a different gate, so I had never seen the name “Dispersed of Judah.” I hadn’t noticed it was a Jewish cemetery, though several Hebrew headstones make that abundantly clear.


And I had not seen one particular monument, the tallest there, or taken heed of the story it tells.

Virginia Lazarus

This monument was erected in honor of a young woman named Virginia Lazarus.


The grief of her parents must have been tremendous. The river side of the monument bears the following inscription:

In cherished memory of our dearly beloved and precious daughter Virginia, who was called away in the fullness and freshness of her glorious young life on October 27th, 1897, aged 18 years 11 months.

Her nobility of character endeared her to everyone. Her presence filled our home with sunshine. Her absence leaves it in impenetrable gloom. Our weeping hearts yield her the tribute of eternal grief.

But there is more to the story. Her father is commemorated on the uptown side of the monument.

In cherished memory of my dearly beloved husband Henry L. Lazarus, who passed away on Nov. 2, 1917, aged 64 years.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., but a resident of this city from boyhood, he was an eminent lawyer, an upright, God-fearing man, a devoted husband, father and son, a staunch and loyal friend.

If everyone to whom he lent a helping hand should bring a blossom to his grave he would sleep beneath a wilderness of flowers.

That loving inscription was obviously written by his wife, Virginia’s mother. She is commemorated on the downtown side of the monument.

Sallie Solomon,
beloved wife of Henry L. Lazarus
July 13, 1853 — May 28, 1931

It would seem that when she passed away, there was no one left to memorialize her. No fancy inscription — just her dates of birth and death.

I was already moved to tears. Then I saw the lake side of the monument, and I learned that they also suffered the loss of three infant children, one in 1876, one in 1877, and one in 1885 who lived for nine days. Virginia must have been born in 1878. After that I was devastated and amazed. So much love, so much pain. I never knew a stone marker could convey such sadness.

There’s a row of small stones placed on the front of the monument that suggest I’m not the only one who has come and read these inscriptions.

I think I may have hugged my daughter a little tighter than usual after that.


Later, I did a little internet research. It seems there is a Virginia Lazarus memorial scholarship at LSU. Could it be the same person? I don’t think so — turns out it’s actually the Adrian Virginia Lazarus scholarship. That name led me to a recent obituary:

Beverly Albert Lazarus March 3, 1926 – August 28, 2010 • Beverly died on Saturday, August 28, 2010 at Chateau de Notre Dame. She was born in New York to the late Abraham and Lilly Albert. She attended Brooklyn College and worked in the retail business as a buyer for A&S Department Stores. Beverly was married to the late Eldon Spencer Lazarus, Jr. for 54 years living in New Orleans. She easily acclimated herself to the New Orleans lifestyle and loved to show her southern hospitality. In New Orleans Beverly was the buyer for Gus Mayer’s Children Department and Godchaux’s Department Store. She was preceded in death by her beloved daughter Adrian Virginia Lazarus, and her brother Henry David Albert.

Note that last sentence. That makes two daughters who passed away before their mothers here in New Orleans — both named Virginia Lazarus. What are the chances?

If any relatives read this, please know that you have my deepest sympathies.

Update: My old high school friend Georgie, who does genealogy for fun, tells me that indeed, the latter Virginia is related to the former. Virginia (1878-1897) had a brother Eldon Spencer Lazarus Sr who had a daughter in 1908, who was also named Virginia Lazarus. He also had a son, Eldon Jr, and Eldon Jr had a daughter named Adrian Virginia Lazarus. Apparently all three daughters died before their mothers. That is heartbreaking.

Also I have to note that I am currently in the middle of reading “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang which seems to be about a mother who outlives her daughter. Coincidence? I certainly hope so…

My Cake Explodes

All of a sudden I’m getting a surge of traffic to this old photo of my birthday cake from 1984.

Rated R Cake

I trace the hits back to a tweet from a journalist in Paris (with a Troll 2 background no less) named Alex Hervaud. Dude’s got 6,718 followers. Here’s the tweet:

Si j’avais fêté mes 17 ans aux States, et si je m’étais appelé Bart, j’aurais kiffé qu’on m’offre ça

My French is a little rusty (as in nonexistent) but Google Translate tells me this means, roughly:

If I celebrated my 17 years in the States, and if I had called Bart, I’m offered that I kiffe

OK, I think I get the general idea. Still, something seems to be lost in translation. The message in question was retweeted by two other people. So there must be some humor I’m missing.

And what does kiffe mean? According to the infamous Urban Dictionary:

Kiffe comes from an arab word (kef) which means to like, to enjoy, a pleasure… which has been “imported” into France by North African people… and became “kiffe”.
It simply means “to really enjoy someone or something!”
e.g: I kiffed that trip!
I would kiffe to meet her;
She really is kiffable
What a kiffe to drive that car!

Because it comes from some sort of French suburb slang (langage des cités), but is now used by everyone (though it is still ‘slangish’), you can use it how you want to!

There are also some sexual definitions for kiffe, but I’m going with the one cited above. After all, my mom made that cake, so let’s keep it clean — eh, M. Hervaud?

How I Roll

I know I mentioned that some mysterious person gave me a couple hundred bucks after my last bike got stolen, but I don’t think I wrote about what I bought as a replacement.

It’s a Globe.

How I Roll

I don’t want anyone to think I am posting this as some sort of tribute to the make and model, because I most emphatically am not. In fact, it’s been nothing but trouble. The rear wheel kept breaking spokes and finally had to be completely rebuilt. The bike has bad balance: it’s prone to falling over which is not good when you’re carting a toddler around. Fortunately it’s never fallen over with Persephone in the seat. Speaking of which, my model of kid seat (which gets rave reviews wherever I go) does not fit well with this stem and handlebars. And finally I have to mention that the pedals scrape the ground whenever I lean into a curve. I’ve already destroyed one pair of pedals this way.

So all in all I would not buy this bike again. Sorry, Globe. I was much happier with my Raleigh and my Giant.

I bought an Elektra cruiser to get around while the Globe was in the shop with the wheel problem. I chose it because it was the cheapest thing at Bayou Bikes, but I ended up liking it quite a bit and kept riding it even when the Globe was fixed, until I caught a flat. Without a quick release, changing that tube is a pain and I procrastinated for many months. Finally yesterday I got it done, took a ride around the block, and was amazed at how much more I liked it. It rides much lower, which I think is a safety advantage for child-transport purposes. However, it lacks fenders, which are helpful in wet weather. It also lacks a rack, which I use for my side-mounted carryall, another essential on the way to daycare. In short, I like the cruiser, but I’m not quite ready to switch back. I don’t have a good place to keep an extra bike either.

The Globe has been getting us around for a while now so I have to give it a little respect. But the main reason for posting these photos was to showcase the Luxardo Amaro Abano I picked up at Cork & Bottle. I just thought it looked funny in the bottle rack.

How I Roll

And to my mysterious benefactor — thanks again!

Thanks Qatar

Here at the University today we are celebrating the opening of the College of Pharmacy’s new Qatar Pavilion. This is a big deal. In addition to our president, the mayor will be saying a few words and the special guest is His Excellency Saad Bin Ibrahim al-Mahmoud, the Minister of Education & Higher Education for the State of Qatar.

Olivia and I beat the crowd by sneaking over there earlier this week and taking a peek, as well as a few pictures.


My favorite moment on our self-guided tour was when Olivia pulled back a curtain to reveal a mannequin lying on a table. She just about jumped out of her skin.


It’s called the Qatar Pavilion because the nation of Qatar donated $12.5 million toward its construction. That’s part of $100 million Qatar donated to various causes in the local area following Hurricane Katrina. This provides a good antidote to a couple of pernicious myths. The first myth is that the USA doesn’t receive foreign aid. Yes, we do. I recall after Katrina even poor nations like Jamaica and Bangladesh were helping us out. The second myth is, of course, the idea that Islam is at war with Christianity. I’d just like to point out that Qatar is a Muslim country and our school is Catholic. ‘Nuff said.

I hope to show my parents the new building when they come to visit. They were mighty impressed by our new University Center five or six years ago. It’s pretty cool to be at a place that is growing even in these tough times. The University has been in growth mode since before I came to work here. Enrollment took a hit after the floods of 2005, for sure, but we’re back to our pre-Katrina numbers now or getting close. This next fiscal year may be the toughest I’ve seen, but at least we’re not laying people off.

Of course, with growth come growing pains. Success presents new challenges. How can an institution such as ours aspire to the next level and still hold onto its soul? That question is on my mind as we read The Heart of Higher Education in our faculty book club.

And on a relevant note, the next construction project here is the building of a new chapel, which is already underway.


Dental Drama

Last Wednesday I got a filling and a temporary crown. While I was numbed up I took a bite out of the inside of my cheek. The temp popped off that evening while I was eating dinner, but my dentist re-affixed it the next morning. The pain in my cheek and jaw got worse, however, and I was somewhat irritable over the weekend. I’ve only ever had one other crown before, and I don’t remember that it hurt like this. On Monday I called my dentist; he assured me this was normal and sure enough the pain and swelling soon subsided. Last night, I was flossing and I got careless and flossed the temporary crown. Sure enough, it popped off again. But the good news is that my permanent (gold) crown had arrived at the dentist’s office, so we were able to put an end to the drama this morning — almost a week ahead of schedule.

I like my dentist. I mean, he seems like a nice guy. I can forgive him for moving his office out to Old Metairie because he avoided getting flooded by a month or so.

But anytime I have dental work done, I have to deal with these nagging suspicions. My Grandma Mildred never had a single filling, or so I’ve been told, and she grew up before fluoride was a big deal. That made me think I might have good dental genes. Also, I don’t eat a lot of sugary foods. I only had one filling before age 35, and that was from a dentist I only saw once — I quit going to him after letting him fill that one cavity.

I didn’t see a dentist at all for a few years around the turn of the century. I started going to my current dentist in 2002, I think. According to my notes, I got eight fillings in two years. Since then I’ve had a few more, including two crowns. Often times the new cavities develop around the old fillings, which make me wonder about the wisdom of getting the filling in the first place.

In all this time, I’ve never had a classic toothache. None of this work has been based on my complaint or any pain in my mouth. It’s all predicated on my dentist’s diagnostic tools.

I believe in preventative medicine, but I have to wonder if all this is really necessary. As I said, I like my dentist. He seems like a fine, upstanding member of the community. I’m sure he adheres to the highest ethical standards of his profession. But still I wonder — is it all some kind of bizarre conspiracy?

A Particular Day in 1999

Although I started this blog in 2004, I’ve added bits and pieces to extend the story back to May of 1999, when Xy and I first moved to New Orleans. I recently rediscovered a write-up from way back when, so in lieu of the present, I invite you to cast your mind back to August 2, 1999. Ah, those were younger and more innocent days. We were living in the Warehouse District, I’d only been working at the University for a scant two months, I hardly knew my way around town, I’d just given up on the bus but had not yet adopted the habit of riding my bike to work, and I could still be shocked by the summer heat.

Footnote: That entry was originally published in my friend Rachel’s zine Daybook, which also provided the impetus for actually writing the entry in the first place. (So, thank you Rachel.) I wrote a much more ambitious and detailed account of a day in October of 2000. I wanted to submit it to the second edition of Daybook but never got around to it. We are now coming up on the tenth anniversary of that otherwise unremarkable day. I’d like to publish it here for the sake of completeness, plus I think it’s interesting, but it may be just a little too detailed. There are just a few things in there that could get me in trouble. Yes, even after ten years.So I’m trying to figure out just how honest I’m really prepared to be.

Concrete Odyssey

It started one Sunday in early September. Xy and Persephone were out on a shopping trip, and I had just left on a bike ride to a discussion group meeting, when I decided to circle back around and pump up my tires. As I was finishing, a red car pulled up. A man and a boy got out. The man’s name was Roy, and he wanted to tear up our driveway.

Roy’s twin sons are enrolled in Xy’s school. She’d seen Roy driving a cement mixer and asked if we could hire him to replace our driveway.

So that’s how Roy ended up at our house. He spent about thirty minutes looking at the work that needed to be done, asking questions occasionally but mostly just looking. I kept waiting for him to mention a price. Finally he said, “Yeah, I think I can do this.” And the price? No charge, except for the cost of the concrete.

What? Really?

Next weekend Roy showed up with a couple friends and a couple big sledgehammers. This was before the weather turned, mind, when just standing outside was enough to break a sweat.

Tearing up concrete the old-fashioned way in that heat seemed cruel and unusual. And don’t forget they were working for free. I felt obliged to swing the hammer myself a few times. Xy even got in the act. But we couldn’t compare to Roy’s friend who was over fifty but strong as an ox.

Hammer Down

He was quite a character. Always cracking jokes, talking a mile a minute. I didn’t care for some of his racially-charged comments, but I gathered he’d spent some time in prison; as Xy noted, prison does not tend to cultivate our highest virtues.

They came back the next day with a jackhammer. I was stiff and sore enough from the previous day’s exertions that I gave up any pretense of trying to help. It took a while to finally get all the stuff torn out, but eventually they did it. It was not just the driveway that had to be removed but portions of the sidewalk as well.

Sidewalk, Interrupted

The roots of the oak tree in front of our house had lifted up the sidewalk, breaking it up pretty badly in some places. I was able to take a picture of one of the the roots before the new concrete was poured.


We were never sure exactly when Roy and company would show up to do some more work. In other words, they were just like regular paid contractors. The key difference was that he’d usually bring his twin sons along, and Xy would end up playing babysitter for a few hours, and we’d feed them as well.

They got it framed up on the 17th of September and came to pour concrete on the 22nd — making for a memorable equinox. We also got the bill at this point, approximately $525 for the concrete. Xy insisted we give Roy some extra for all his hard work and out of pocket expenses, so I wrote a second check for $300.

But this story wasn’t over, not by a long shot. On the evening of the equinox, one of the twins remarked that the work wouldn’t go well because they “didn’t have any Mexicans.” I’m not sure if that was really the problem. I suspect it might have had more to do with the fact that they were working until well after dark without adequate lighting. In any case, there were problems. When the sun rose on the morning of the 23rd, it revealed workmanship that was somewhat less than ideal. Finished concrete is supposed to be sort of, you know, smooth. This was the opposite of that. The surface was rough and wavy with furrows in some places and lumps in others. Hillocks and valleys abounded. Xy tried to put a good face on it, taking an optimistic view for perhaps the first time in our 17 years of marriage. But even the neighbors were pointing and laughing. “That’s some funny stuff,” Charles said.

When Roy came back to remove the wooden frame pieces he took one look at it and said he’d have to tear it out and do it over.

What’s interesting is how quick the second job went. I really wanted to take a picture of the “funny” concrete but Roy tore it out before I got a chance. He brought a Bobcat this time. Howie and his wife suggested some sand should be put down; when I mentioned this to Roy he’d already arranged for sand to be poured. And before I could say “Terrytown” he was back with the cement mixer.

Pouring, Take Two

This time, with Mexicans.

The final product was much better. I don’t know if the credit goes to workers of Latino ethnicity, or the fact that the work was done in adequate light so they could see what they’re doing. In any event, I ‘m much happier with the result.


Roy never asked us for more money to cover that second load of concrete. Nor did he ever cash the check for the “extra” we tried to give him. In fact, Xy had to hand it to him three times before he took it. As I’ve related this story to friends and neighbors and co-workers, most have expressed amazement that Roy would do all this work for nothing. What’s his motivation? Perhaps he hopes Xy will give his son some extra scholastic help. Perhaps he knows teachers at Catholic schools don’t get paid much. I don’t really know. But having interacted with Roy a few times now, I suspect that he simply did this work out of the goodness of his heart.

Kind of amazing, isn’t it?

Dark Green Religion

Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary FutureDark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future by Bron Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here’s a rarity — an academic book that is also a page-turner, at least for me. I couldn’t put it down. This is a broad survey of an emergent global phenomenon which might be called earth worship or nature spirituality or “dark green religion.” Bron Taylor defines religion broadly and looks a range of cultures and subcultures, from radical environmentalism to surfing to Disney films and many more. I was a bit disappointed that contemporary Paganism got such scant coverage — only about two and a half pages plus some scattered references. Perhaps that’s because Taylor seems preoccupied with folks who don’t explicitly consider themselves to be practicing “religion” in the most familiar sense of the word. The term “dark” in the title is supposed to connote a sense of potential peril, but according to the author that mostly seems to be in the eyes of Abrahamic practitioners. He hints early in the book that he might examine the potential dangers of ecofascism, but this is never really explored in depth. I suspect there may be a resonance between racism and “dark green religion,” especially in Europe, that bears a closer look. But I quibble. This is a good one which I recommend to anyone interested in ecology or religion.

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I’m still a little “down in the mouth” from getting a temporary crown last week. In the meantime, please check out this link:

The Hypothetical Development Organization

I’m not really sure what this is all about. As near as I can figure, these folks aim to propose bizarre and fanciful re-developments of existing urban buildings and infrastructure, which will then be deployed as surreal “coming soon” installations in a weird pranky art-life statement. Like I said, I’m not really sure. But it looks plenty intriguing. And they’re planning to get started right here in New Orleans.