A Dozen Intertwining Years

Today Tomorrow I am celebrating a dozen years here at the University. That means we moved to New Orleans twelve years and a couple weeks ago. I can’t conceive of one without the other. A dozen years of work and life at this school in this city. As previously noted, I’ve now spent a quarter of my life here. I used to agonize about the prospect of a bifurcated life, but somewhere along the way I’ve come to blend my multiple personal and professional roles. My home life and work life and civic life are all sort of intertwined. My neighbors are my co-workers are my co-conspirators are my friends. Occasionally striking the right balance can be a challenge, but for the most part I like it. I feel like a whole person, and I’m glad to have found a place where that’s tolerated and occasionally even encouraged.

Here’s a photo I took when I started here, and another I took this weekend. I just noted they are remarkably similar, though I didn’t plan it.



Same as it ever was, the more things change, still crazy after all these years, et cetera.

Of all the moments I’ve enjoyed here at the University, one of the funniest was the Great Toilet Installation Fail of 2010 which I just posted to the FAIL Blog, per Maitri’s suggestion. Please vote it up.

Loose Endz

Recently, after a couple beers, Xy let it slip that she’s not really into the funky weird ponytail I’d been growing out for the last year or so.


I can’t say I blame her. It started as the ultimate anti-mullet, long on top, shaved everywhere else. But when it finally got long enough, it started looking like a mullet after all. In fact, this hair had become something of a liability. I worry how my personal image reflects on my other activities. For example, as the president of a small grassroots organization I often speaking to the public. I have to wonder what the Rotary Club thought when I show up sporting that ridiculous ‘do. I don’t mind making a fool of myself, but I don’t want to make our project look bad.

So, yes, I’ve been looking forward to chopping it off. The question has been when. Xy’s offhand comment was the only excuse I needed.

The other key question has been how. I could have just shaved my head bald on the porch. I can do that myself, and the price is right.

But I like going to a barber when I can. Since Katrina I have been struggling to find a regular barber. I’ve got a guy I can go to for a cut who’s pretty good, but he’s kind of unfriendly and he’s not close to home. Proximity is key. I want to be able to walk to my barbershop. i want to be able to pop in without a great deal of fuss. I also want a barber with whom I can develop a rapport, someone who will understand what I want, eventually. And finally, there’s a little feeling of community that can emerge in a barbershop. I like talking to, or just listening to, or just being the same space with people I wouldn’t otherwise have met, neighbors I wouldn’t otherwise know.

That’s why I was happy to see Loose Endz open up just a couple doors from our house back in early March.

Corner Shop

Incidentally, I wrote Vincent Marcello a letter about this property last October. He wrote back and assured me that any lead paint issues would be handled responsibly. I would have gone ballistic if I’d seen any sanding, but I never did. Somehow they got it done. From what I can tell, Mr. Marcello was good to his word.

Since they opened, I’ve stuck my head in the door a couple times, but Saturday morning I went as a customer.

I’ve patronized African American barbers for years. My pre-K barber, Louis E. Claverie, had a sign above his door that advertised “Serving All Nationalities.” (His shop was put out of commission by the floods of ’05. I don’t know what happened to him personally. I often wonder, and I hope he made out OK.) The barbers I’ve visited post-K have not been so versatile. I went to Unifiers only once, but I got the impression I was the only white customer Mr. Percy had ever had. I worked with a couple guys at Hair Ideas, but just as soon as they got up to speed, they vanished — and then Hair Ideas was foreclosed, sadly enough.

If you’re wondering why I’m making such a big deal about race, well, hair really is pretty different between the races. What’s more, it’s different in tricky ways that are significant when it comes to cutting and styling. The art of cutting Afro-textured hair is distinct from the art of cutting straight hair.

Saturday morning, I decided to get the question out of the way. I asked Tim straight-up if he much experience cutting Caucasian hair. I don’t normally call myself Caucasian, but talking about “white hair” is even more confusing. Tim confessed he wasn’t too comfortable with the scissors, but that’s OK. Clipper cuts are what I prefer anyway.

I often aim for a flattop, a somewhat technical cut which is hard to pull of without a lot of practice. In this case, given how much of my head was shaved almost bald, I’m not sure a flattop was possible. What I ended up with was more like a rooster’s comb, almost like a mohawk with a very accomplished fade. Even so, I don’t look half as wacky as I did before. I’m happy with this for now, but I’ll probably take it down a little shorter next time. I like having an ultra-conservative, military-style haircut. It’s like a spiritual mullet: business on the outside, party within.

Twenty bucks got me a haircut and a shave. Tim proved to be both personable and a skilled barber. I think I’ll be back.

Here’s a photo.

New Haircut

It’s not a very good shot, because I’m backlit, but I like it anyway because it was taken by Persephone. I helped her steady the camera, but she pushed the button herself. You can’t really see here how the hair comes to crest, but there are more pix in my photostream if you’re really curious. Self-portraits are a challenge.

Post Scriptum: Tim told me Banks Street Bar will soon be closing, temporarily, so that the building can be straightened, because it’s leaning like a gangsta.


A couple days ago Xy reported she had trouble with the car starting, and sure enough the next morning it was dead. We packed Xy off in a cab. (When she got to her school on the West Bank, she discovered the cab wasn’t equipped to take credit cards (although the dispatcher had assured me that it was) so he ran her to an ATM, but it was broken, so she had to borrow money from another teacher. But I digress.) I asked Tommie, who runs the station across the street, to take a look at our vehicle, but he forgot, until I came home from work at the end of the day and reminded him. The battery was dead, so he charged it up ($10) and everything seemed to be fine.

“If it happens again,” he said, “I’m going to suggest a new battery.”

Later that evening I was planning to ride my bike to a FOLC board meeting, but as a storm was moving in I decided to drive instead. Before I even put the key in the ignition I noticed all sorts of funny clicking noises coming from the dashboard. The car wouldn’t start. The antitheft indicator was blinking, even after I locked the car up, and I had a flashback to the huge aggravation of our previous car. I started to get the chills. We never were able to fix that problem.

That was yesterday. This morning, Xy got a ride with a co-worker, and I dithered about whether to grapple with getting the car fixed or wait until after the holiday weekend. I decided to grit my teeth and go for it. I figured there was some sort of esoteric electronic problem that was causing the battery to drain — something obscure and high-tech that Tommie wouldn’t be able to fix. I figured I needed to take it to the dealership. So I got Tommie to jump the car for me. Actually one of his employees did it. He claims to have written a “Who Dat” book which he’s now publishing. The title is Whodat-Lagniappe! and it would seem to be an inspirational Christian tome. Not what I expected from an older guy of indeterminate ethnicity in a Biohazard t-shirt.

After dropping Persephone off at daycare, I drove up to the North Shore on the world’s (seventh) longest bridge, to Mandeville, to the Banner Ford dealership, which is where I bought the car on the last day of 2009.

(Why so far when there’s a dealership in Metairie? I happened to glance at some reviews on Google and there was a vast disparity in customer satisfaction.)

On the ride there I listened to Democracy Now on WTUL, an interview with Eli Pariser about the filter bubble.

I don’t particularly like cars, and so dealing with automotive problems is anathema to me, and sitting in the waiting room at a car dealership has always seemed like purgatory to me. I was bracing myself for a long, long wait. I had a cup of coffee, took a crap, watched some daytime TV, and rated some songs. (Xy found an iPod about a year ago and gave it to me.) I didn’t even had a chance to crack open my book (Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg) when the mechanic came out and told me I had a bum battery. They just needed to replace it.

What? I remembered what Tommie said and kicked myself mentally. But all those weird clicking noises?

Relays, I was told.

OK, so they replaced it, I paid $136.51, and I tried to head back home. Problem: It’s a toll bridge. I knew that, but I wasn’t certain of the amount. You can’t discern the toll until you’re right up on the tollgate. I only had one dollar bill on me, and (just like Xy’s cab) they don’t take plastic. I had to take the exit of shame and head back to an ATM where I paid a $3.00 fee so I could get the necessary cash for the $3.00 toll.

While getting the cash, I received a text from Xy advising me to get a tuneup while I was at the dealership. Too late, I texted back. I’m on the causeway by the time I get her next text: Omg! Brakes bad 2!

And then she had the unmitigated nerve to call me and fuss about it.

On the ride back I listened to Tommy Tucker (sitting in for Garland Robinette) on WWL talking about the petition to recall Superintendent Serpas.

When I finally got back to Mid-City and turned down our street, another vehicle got caught in my blind spot and I very nearly sideswiped it when I turned into our driveway. The driver honked at me and then she stopped in the street and gave me a good long glare as I climbed out of the car. I shrugged a sheepish apology.

I gave Tommie five bucks for the jump, and walked to work. Somehow I made it there around half-past noon. So the day was not completely wasted.

Social Media, Social Justice

Twitter Revolt Logo (burst)

After the Beyond Jena forum in January of 2009, I had the idea for putting together a one-day conference on the intersection of social media and social justice.

Alas, though I blew some hot air around the office, I never actually did it. A combination of distractions and personal lethargy (on my part) got in the way. I allowed the idea to languish while we looked for grant money to fund it, when in reality we could probably have done the whole thing on a shoestring.

But that’s all water through the spillway now. I’m looking forward to Rising Tide VI, and I may have a chance to program a panel on this topic.

Much as I’d like to think the title of this post says it all, perhaps I should unpack it a little. Social Media, Social Justice. More and more people around the world use blogs and social network services. Their power to connect people and publish diverse voices raises questions about the possibility of using new media as organizing tools for social change. For example, blogs played a crucial role in organizing protests in Jena, Louisiana, in 2007. I’m interested in examining the intersection and interaction of social media with the struggle for a more just and humane society. Do tools such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, et cetera, facilitate such work, and if so how? What are some concrete examples? We’ve all heard about the revolution in Egypt, but what’s going on locally? I’m also interested in critical perspectives. Does social media actually impede the struggle for justice? Are we just “amusing ourselves to death” (to borrow a phrase from Neil Postman)? Does new media present a new opportunities, or do we face the same issues as ever?

I have some ideas about who to ask to sit on the panel, but I’m curious to know if any of my readers have any suggestions. Ideally I’m looking for people who are equally versed in both halves of the equation. In other words, tech-savvy activists and socially conscious geeks, as well as scholars who have studied this issue. We’re looking for local folks with a New Orleans connection, so we can keep it real and relevant to the focus of the conference. Also we don’t have funds to support travel. Exceptions could be made for an exceptional speaker. Above all participants should be able to speak to the issue with passion and intelligence.


Twitter Revolt Logo (burst) / to the People All Power / BY-NC 2.0

Not Forgotten


So I went down to Michael’s house last night to watch Treme. I fully expected to see a commemoration of Dinerral Shavers, and that is how the show began. The funeral scene was moving. Nakita Shavers, playing herself, gave a heartbreaking eulogy for her brother. I read that she had to do that scene four times.

What I did not expect, however, was a scene that came midway through the show. Suddenly we find ourselves at a crime scene in the Bywater. Hey, I recognize that house. I helped pack up those belongings into boxes. I remember finding a card someone had left behind, a professional crime scene cleaning service. But now we’re there before the cleanup. We’re seeing the police investigation. We can see them making a botch of it. (I never thought of it that way, but clearly that’s what it was: a botched investigation. Or so it seems to me, but I only know what I read in the papers and hear on the street.)

I’ve watched every episode of this damn show with a sense of detachment. Yes, it’s all very accurate. It captures some of the spirit of a time and place that I lived through, and that’s a trip. But all the same, it’s just a TV show. It’s just a story, safely trapped inside a frame of the TV set.

Until last night. That crime scene, and some of the follow-up, stripped away my detachment and made me feel grief anew. I shed a few tears. Hell, after Katrina I cried most every day for a year or three, but these days my composure is not so easily shaken. The scene showing the tributes of flowers and other offerings, piling up around the bicycle, was also fairly heartrending.

It was all so damnably accurate. It stirs painful memories. But at the same time I’m glad that Helen is not forgotten.

The scenes in which I was an extra, depicting the March for Survival, were very brief but inspiring. The message of unity was clear. It was fascinating to me to see how much went into the production to yield so little screen time. I was able to pick myself out in a crowd scene for one fraction of a second, but you’d have to know exactly where to look and I doubt anyone could recognize me.

I was prepared to hear Nakita’s speech at the rally, since I’d heard they were going to use archival footage of her alone. Then, a strange technical glitch occurred. We think it was due to the DVR kicking in to record another program. Anyway, I didn’t see the last 60-90 seconds of the program. That was highly ironic, because I’ve since heard that I got the last word.

In a way, it seems appropriate. Yes, I would have gotten a little thrill out of seeing myself on TV again, a little egotistical headrush. I’ve been on TV a lot, over the years, and I’m kind of addicted to it. But it’s a highly ambivalent feeling, too, considering the circumstances. Whatever narcissistic gratification I might derive is quickly blunted when I remember how we got here. I’d gladly trade this small fame to have my friends back whole again. I guess that goes without saying. Anyway, the ironic truncation of the episode seems almost just.

I still haven’t seen it, but a friend sent me a screenshot.

TV in Bar

Life sure is a strange and sad affair.

I know opinions differ about the value of such storytelling. My friend Nevitate, a New Orleanian transplanted to Los Angeles, watched this episode, his first, and texted me.

Yeah, i was on the verge of tears. Strange to watch the show. So many personal events presented as ‘material’. Seems almost violative.

I was put in mind of the scene from last season, where a busload of tourists gawk at a Mardi Gras Indian ceremony. I never had a problem with the “disaster tours.” I welcomed them. I figured they would help get the word out, about what happened here. That scene made me see the other side of the argument, the objection to the objectification of our sorrow. And it was so much more than an intellectual exercise. I felt that one in my gut.

Ironically, Treme itself is something of a tourist bus, transforming New Orleans into a spectacle to be consumed. I understand all that, and I understand why people find it objectionable. And yet still, at the end of the day, I’m a fan. All I can say in defense of that is that we’re already well inside the spectacle economy, regardless, and that this show’s writing and (relatively) sophisticated viewership mean the essential humanity of the subject still has a chance to get communicated.

That was abundantly obvious to me when I gave a greenway tour to a bunch of out-of-town conventioneers. We walked past the old Winn-Dixie, still vacant but re-blazoned “Robideaux’s Market.”


I explained they may have seen this on HBO a few weeks ago. (Walking in the Tremé, talking about Treme.) Turned out there were several loyal viewers in my group, and as we talked it was clear their interest and curiosity about New Orleans was stoked by the show. I think that’s good for the city.

Moreover I think good art is good for us all, and I think Treme rises to that description.

Ultimately it’s still just a TV show, of course. It’s up to us to make our city vibrant and viable. That should go without saying. A TV show is no replacement for a decent economy, good educational opportunities and public safety. These three things are intimately connected, and it seems to me the writers of Treme clearly see that, and so again I think it’s all for the best. I feel they are telling our story and telling it well.

Beyond all those issues, there’s the question of representing details from lives we’ve lost. Real people, not fictional characters. This is sensitive stuff, and I’m sure different people will see it differently. If Nakita’s performance was any indication, it would seem Dinerral’s family has made their peace with his story being told in this venue. I hope Helen’s family feels the same way.

Post Scriptum: When I got home I found five or six loaves of really good bread in our refrigerator. I guess DJ came by and dropped them off while I was watching the show. I posted up a tweet about it. Then I started getting a barrage of marginally coherent expletive-laced mini-rants attacking Treme from a local blogger I’m not sure I’ve ever even met. I don’t have room for that kind of mess in my life, so I blocked him, or her, or whatever.

Update: I was remiss not to include a link to HelenHill.org, where you can learn the latest about The Florestine Collection, Helen’s last film, now finished by her husband Paul.

Thirty-Nine Months


Dear Persephone,

We’ve been counting down your last days of “school.” I’ve been taking you to daycare starting when you were five months old. The morning time has been our special time together. Since you don’t have to be there at any specific time, and my workday is usually flexible, we’ve had the luxury of taking a leisurely approach, and this has been a responsibility that I have relished. We take our time, we talk about all manner of things, and we share the joy of starting our day together.

All that’s about to end in a few days. You’ll have the summer off with your mother, and then in the fall you’ll start going to school for real, to “Mama’s school,” where they have a pre-K3 program. Instead of riding on the bike with me, you’ll be riding in the car across the river. Instead of a leisurely beginning to the day we’ll be looking at an unforgiving clock and I predict a fair amount of chaos and stress.

So I’m doing my best to enjoy these last few days of the old routine. I’ll miss riding down the street while you ring the bell and call out, “Wake up, wake up, everybody, it’s morning times!” It’s the end of an era, and that makes me sad.

But just to prove I’m not an overly sentimental fool, I also have to report that this past month has been tough. You are really at the height of the so-called “first adolescence.” At least I hope it’s the height. You are stubborn to the point of pigheadedness. For example, tonight Xy was making a quick run to the store, and she was going to take you along. You wouldn’t put your shoes on, and so Xy left without you. That sounds simple enough in the retelling, but oh, the drama. The tears. The yelling. The hitting. After Xy left, you finally put your shoes on, but of course it was too late. I’d hoped you might learn something from this incident but I’m not sure you’re quite able to yet. It ain’t easy being three.

A week ago, after some long, drawn-out conflict (over what I can’t even remember) I told you that I love you, and you said that I didn’t. You maintained that you loved me, and you loved Mama, but that we didn’t love you. Now that you’re over that particular fit of pique, you still say from time to time, “Nobody loves me.” I don’t know that you believe it. I don’t think you do. But I think you enjoy the way it sounds. Anyway, you sure know how to hurt a guy.

So as not to end this note on downer, I’ll recount something you said to me at Aidan’s five-year birthday party last night. You got in the jumpy castle, and you were jumping up and down with the other kids, and you turned to me and said, “Dada, can you sing that song that goes, ‘Bounce for the Juvenile?'”

That Magnolia project keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Uptown villains who don’t mind dyin’
That Melpomene project keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Uptown villains who don’t mind dyin’
That Calliope project keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Uptown villains who don’t mind dyin’
That St. Thomas project keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of front of town villains who don’t mind dyin’
That 13th Ward keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Uptown villains who don’t mind dyin’
That 9th Ward posse keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Downtown villains who don’t mind dyin’

Now bounce for the Juvenile, bounce for the Juvenile
Bounce baby, bounce, bounce, bounce
I said bounce for the Juvenile, bounce for the Juvenile
Bounce baby, bounce, bounce, bounce

I was happy to oblige even though I felt like Steve Zahn on Treme.

Oh, and several weeks ago you requested “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” as your bedtime lullaby.

Obligatory Rapture Post

Judgment Bus

In addition to being my boss’ birthday, tomorrow is supposed to be Judgment Day according to Harold Camping. No, it’s not the end of the world. That’s coming in October.

Just for the record, I may as well make my own prediction: There will be no rapture tomorrow. However there will be plenty of discouraged and disillusioned people. I’m amazed how many have bought into Camping’s prediction. I feel sorry for these folks. They’ve been led astray.

One Day Left

Here’s the precise prediction from Camping’s website:

What will take place on May 21?

On May 21, 2011 two events will occur. These events could not be more opposite in nature, the one more wonderful than can be imagined; the other more horrific than can be imagined.

A great earthquake will occur the Bible describes it as “such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.” This earthquake will be so powerful it will throw open all graves. The remains of the all the believers who have ever lived will be instantly transformed into glorified spiritual bodies to be forever with God.

On the other hand the bodies of all unsaved people will be thrown out upon the ground to be shamed.

The inhabitants who survive this terrible earthquake will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description. Each day people will die until October 21, 2011 when God will completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants.

That seems fantastical enough, and I don’t understand how people could really believe that. But a story on NPR takes it to the next level.

On May 21, “starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth,” [Kevin Brown] says.

So wait — we’re to expect this massive earthquake to happen time zone by time zone? Twenty-four earthquakes in little vertical slices of the planet from pole to pole? That just seems ludicrous on the face of it. I mean even if you accept the whole rapture premise — Why would God honor time zones?

I was curious to know if this was Kevin Brown’s own idea. Nope, turns out this comes from Camping himself.

Tina Dupuy interviewed Camping and wrote about it in the Atlantic, and she gets right to the heart of the silliness:

The Rapture is at 6 p.m. on May 21, 2011, where ever it’s 6 p.m. first, with the “fantastically big” world-ending event taking place on a time zone by time zone basis.

That means we can expect the Rapture to start when it hits 6 p.m. at the International Dateline at 180 Longitude — roughly the between Pago Pago, American Samoa, and Nuku’alofa, Tonga. We’ll know it’s Judgment Day because there will be an earthquake of previously unprecedented magnitude, Camping predicts.

So, according to these calculations, the Rapture will actually begin like a rolling brownout across the globe at 11 p.m. PST on Friday, May 20th. “Everyone will be weeping and wailing because they’ll know in a few hours it’ll come to their city,” said Camping.

So that’s 9PM tonight in our time zone. Might be a good time for a cocktail.

It’s easy to make jokes about the situation. I’ve been invited to a number of funny Facebook events like “Post Rapture Looting” and “Pre Rapture Orgy” and “Scare the Christians by Leaving Empty Shoes and Dry Ice Around.” Ha ha. But I also find this phenomenon troubling. I find it troubling there seem to be so many people who’ve fallen for this. I suppose it’s further evidence that it’s a big old world, and there are a certain percentage of rubes out there.

If you actually have the stomach to investigate Camping’s math, you can’t help but realize he’s a charlatan who will likely prosper no matter what happens. He’s like Donald Trump, in a way: a complete clown who’s playing the system by getting people worked up over sheer foolishness. That’s not to say either Camping or Trump are harmless. Quite the opposite. I hope no one is hurt by these shenanigans, but it wouldn’t surprise me if something ugly happens.

I suppose we’re all prone to apocalyptic end times paranoia. I just don’t see it coming like Camping predicts. I see it more like massive environmental degradation. For my daughter’s sake, I hope I’m wrong about that too.

Post Scriptum: For a good example of proper attribution for one of my photos, check out this Catholic News Agency story: Catholic scholar dismantles May 21 Judgment Day claims

HuffPo Rip-Off

The Lattice Dance

Ross Luippold & Carol Hartsell of Huffington Post used a photo of mine in their allegedly humorous feature, Eight Rejected Prom Themes.

How dare they!

I publish my photos on Flickr under a Creative Commons attribution license. All they have to do to be legal is give me credit. They don’t have to pay me. They don’t even have to ask me. Just give a little credit. But they couldn’t even do that. How pathetic.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what a proper attribution might look like. This could take different forms depending on context. This was generated via OpenAttribute, a tool I use daily which “makes it ridiculously simple for anyone to copy and paste the correct attribution for any CC licensed work.”

Prom 2 / Bart Everson / CC BY 2.0

See how easy that was? I think it took me two seconds.

Notice they even went to the trouble of cloning the lattice to make it fit their aspect ratio. Here’s the original if you want to compare.

Prom 2

So they did a fair bit of Photoshop work to set up their gag, but they couldn’t take two seconds to give proper attribution.

Unfortunately this is a pattern of behavior with HuffPo. Within seconds of posting this on Facebook, I heard from my friend Rachel W. who has been similarly ripped off. And I’ve actually been hearing of such shenanigans for a long time. It’s the kind of stuff I’d expect from a amateur blogger like myself, not a venture that was purchased for $315 million earlier this year.

Just so it’s clear, perhaps I should spell it out in no uncertain terms. Taking someone else’s stuff without permission is thievery. I’ve tried to make it easy for people to use my content, but when they violate the terms of the license under which I’ve published it, that’s thievery too.

All I required out of the transaction was to be given credit. Deny me that, and you’re stealing.

What to do? My friend Kelly S. (an attorney herself) recommends: “They deserve to receive some strongly worded letters written by an attorney willing to go further, if needed.”

Do I have any lawyer friends out there who feel like shooting off a C&D?

PS: Thanks to my old friend Kevin K. for spotting this.

My Five

James Has a Cocktail

I got my media credential, so happily I will be attending Tales of the Cocktail this summer for the third time.

There’s a host of interesting events at Tales. I find myself drawn to programming around particular spirits (or categories of spirits) and particular cocktails (or categories of cocktails). Your palette may vary. Here are my “top five” seminars which I plan to check out.

  • Beyond Punch: Colonial American Drinks
  • The Negroni: An Iconic Cocktail
  • Who’s Your Daddy? A Mai Tai Paternity Test
  • “Making Love to His Tonic & Gin”
  • Vinegar: The Other Acid

I also hope to check out “The Journey of Artemisia Absinthium” if I can wangle my way in. In fact there are several other seminars I’ll try to attend by flying stand-by. My media credential is not an “all access” pass. Also on my agenda is the VIP session, “Cocktails from Around the World.” It’s sponsored by Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits. And there are a plethora of tasting rooms and other events.

But the single thing I’m most excited about is free and open to the public.

Cynar Frozen Concoctions

Time: 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM
Date: Wednesday the 20th of July, 2011
Venue: Hotel Monteleone Front Steps

Enjoy a cool Cynar-inspired frozen concoction! On Wednesday, the fabulous Amaro will be featured in a delectable frozen treat outside the Hotel Monteleone on Royal

Perhaps I’ll see you there?

Of course I’ll be reporting back here on all these fine festive goings-on. Check back in July. In the meantime, you can satisfy your thirst for cocktail lore my roundup of last year’s event.

A Bit Player in Scenes from My Own Life

Shooting on St. Charles

As I said back in February:

I suppose that being an extra in a big film or television production is always kind of weird. But it’s a truly bizarre thing to reenact events that one has experienced firsthand.

I haven’t written anything more about my experiences as an extra for HBO’s Treme because I thought it might be bad form to disclose anything from a production so far in advance. But as Ray points out, we’re almost there now. I expect this episode may air either tomorrow night or next Sunday.

I don’t have any plot points to reveal, no spoilers, nothing like that. By now, those watching the show may have noticed Dinerral Shavers in the last couple episodes. Anyone who’s read this blog, anyone familiar with recent New Orleans history, will know where that’s headed: a senseless act of violence, and the March for Survival.

As for me, despite my extra work, I don’t really know much more than that.

Being an extra is weird because you’re participating in a simulation of reality, and typically you don’t really know much about the bigger picture. You don’t know how the final production will look. In that, it’s kind of like real life. We act our little part, and we don’t know how history will judge us. I suppose I knew more than most of the extras about the reality we were simulating, but I’m still in the dark with regard to the finished program. Yes, I spent a day riding buses all over New Orleans for various re-enactments of the 2007 march. But these scenes will probably amount to only a few minutes of screen time at most. I wasn’t privy to much of anything beyond that.

I felt like I was a bit player in scenes from my own life.

When HBO first contacted me, I’d hoped that I would end up talking to some of the writers, but that never happened. I thought I could provide some insight into the march and the surrounding events, the precipitating events and the aftermath. But with something of this magnitude, they could certainly get good information elsewhere. I hope they did.

My initial contact was with a woman named Kaia. I did share some details, which she dutifully noted, like the fact that we marched with a snare drum in honor of Dinerral, or the fact that we wore white. But that information was available through other sources, so I suspect it was redundant. Kaia worked in casting, I think, and seemed primarily interested in connecting with the neighborhood to recruit extras. She invited me to participate too.

So, instead of informing the story on background, I got a street-level view of the production of some big scenes. I spent the day rubbing elbows with people who were doing it for the paycheck, or for a lark. Some of the people on my bus had participated in the 2007 march but most had not. There were also volunteers who showed up for a few scenes; I don’t think they were paid at all.

I left the house around 6:30 AM and was back by 5:30 PM. They fed us twice, and the food was neither awful nor good. The coffee was excellent, which was a surprise. A few weeks later I got a check for just under a hundred bucks, after taxes.

One of the first things I saw that morning was a wardrobe item, a jacket memorializing Helen Hill. There was a printout of a video frame pinned to it, showing the original jacket that a friend of Helen’s had made and worn to the 2007 March for Survival. I remember seeing that jacket. (Or at least I think I do. Maybe my mind is starting to play tricks on me. I believe this is called creeping surrealism, and it must be an occupational hazard for those in the biz.) I found this attention to detail impressive. But strangely enough I didn’t feel anything when I saw this. I didn’t feel a chill run down my spine. I didn’t feel a renewed sense of loss. I didn’t feel anything. I just felt numb.

First we recreated the Mid-City march. In reality, the Mid-City marchers rallied in front of Helen and Paul’s old flooded house on Cleveland Avenue. In the recreation, we convened at a table set up behind Fisk Howard Elementary School, a few blocks away. Later, the “Hasty Ray” scene was shot on Banks Street. In reality, we marched on Canal Street, and we did not chant anything. The first is a minor detail. As for the latter, I’m not sure. I think the solemnity of our wordless march with a snare drum (in tribute to Dinerral Shavers) was more indicative of the mood of marchers on that day than jaunty protest chants. But we’ll see how it come out in the edit.

Next we were in the CBD re-enacting the convergence of marchers from the Bywater, Central City and Mid-City. The street geography was a little off, but the spirit of unity that this was clearly intended to represent was very true to my experience of the day. If anything, the directors had to caution the extras not to act too jubilant. “This isn’t about winning the Superbowl!” We’re used to second lines and parades around here; I think it’s hard for a bunch of New Orleanians to walk in the street together and not get happy.

Later I found myself uptown, and then down in the Tremé under the “bridge.” I wondered about the wisdom of using extras in multiple neighborhood scenes like that. Doesn’t it hurt continuity? How about my face in multiple scenes around town? I really was in Mid-City and the CBD on that day in 2007, and I wasn’t anywhere else, and I’d like to think that detail matters. Hey, I may not be Meryl Streep, but a few people might recognize me. Then again, I may not even appear on screen, so we’ll just have to see.

I’m hipster-positive, as a rule, but nevertheless there was this one guy, a fellow extra, who really annoyed me. We were on St. Charles Avenue, and the directors were orchestrating the convergence of a white marching contingent and a black marching contingent. This hipster dude didn’t like how they were segregating the extras racially, and I have to admit he had a point. Crowds of any size here are usually mixed in my experience; making the crowd all-white was overkill. But the hipster dude started sounding off about how race is not an issue in New Orleans. He seemed to have a mental image of a city with no racial tension, no harsh disparities, no animosities, no ugliness. It was a wonderfully naïve vision. Maybe I saw things that way myself once. I tired explaining how anxiety over race relations played a major role in the politics of the moment that we were reenacting, but he didn’t want to hear it. Of course he only moved here a year ago. What a mook.

It’s my sense that the march will be depicted as a moment of unity for the city of New Orleans. But a moment of unity implies an underlying division.

I kept wondering when we would finish with the marching and get around to the rally. We never did. Finally I got word that the rally would be recreated from archival footage. I believe Dinerral’s sister, Nikita Shavers, will be the only speaker featured. But who knows? I’ll have to tune in to watch just like everybody else. Maybe I’ll see myself. Maybe I won’t. That doesn’t matter to me. I wasn’t in this for glory.

Until then, you can check out this set of photos I took throughout the course of the day. Be sure to read the captions as they expand upon the matters I’ve touched on here.

In the end, I’m glad I did it. I’m a fan of Treme. It’s the only TV show I follow, actually. Yesterday I gave a tour of the Lafitte Corridor to people from all over the country, who are here in town for the Fit Nation New Orleans conference. As I talked to my group, I found we touched on Treme repeatedly. At the very least, it’s a mechanism for accessing the city’s complex culture, which is a powerful thing. And, perhaps, it’s much more. History will be the judge.

Kicked Off


This morning was the Lafitte (Corridor) Greenway Strategic Kickoff Meeting. It ran from 7:30 to 9:00 AM, which was a tad problematic for me. I’m usually getting my girl to daycare around 9 AM, and I really hate to rush our morning routine. Yesterday morning, she got into a mood and hid under the dining room table. “I don’t want to go to school!” So I was apprehensive. But she was understanding. She knows I go to meetings all the time, and when I explained I had a very important one this morning, and that they were starting without me, she was intrigued and even cooperative. “Why are they starting without you?” Bottom line: I got her to daycare at 7:50 and made it to the kickoff meeting at Basin Street Station around 8:15. I was late and I was sweaty but at least I was there.

After the kickoff the planners started a tour of the corridor. I had hoped to take the day off and stick with them for the whole thing, but we’re doing our big annual seminar here at work this week, and so duty called me away.

Nevertheless I’m excited. Things are happening. Work has actually begun already. Surveyors were sighted on the corridor a couple weeks ago. I expect the first public planning meeting will take place some time in August.

House Next Door

I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it, but the house next door to ours was finally purchased. I believe it went for around $40K after sitting on the market for a year. The initial price was twice that. It needs a lot of work, which is underway. The new owner’s intention is to renovate and sell. The house is comparable in size to ours. If it sells for around the same price ($250K) it should be a good return on investment.

So once again we are living next to a construction site, which kind of sucks — but it sure beats the alternative. That house has not been occupied since the floods of 2005, at least.

Here are some pix.


House Next Door

View from Our Window

Smokin' at the Ice Cream Truck

The work crew consists mainly of three guys of Honduran origin. They like to listen to classic rock on the radio. They patronize the ice cream truck. They seem to know what they’re doing.

Today I saw they were putting up Tyvek. That brought back memories. Three years ago, at our old location, work on the house next door stalled out for months. (Same as our house, actually, just later.) Some of the house wrap came undone and would flap in the breeze. Because our houses were so close together it was like the flapping was right in our bedroom. It was driving Xy crazy, and finally I had to run out with a ladder and a staple gun and secure the errant wrap.


Estimated Inundation

It’s been terribly dry here in Southeast Louisiana for a long time. In the midst of this drought, it’s hard to believe that the Mississippi River is riding at historically high levels. All that water is barreling down toward New Orleans. The US Army Corps of Engineers is opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway right now to divert some water into Lake Pontchartrain. More ominously, the Corps is considering opening the Morganza Spillway for the first time in 35 years. That would divert a huge amount of the Mississippi’s flow into the Atchafalaya River basin.

I’ve been wondering about the consequences of this. I understand it would put a lot of farmland under water. It would destroy crops and perhaps even livelihoods. These and other sacrifices are being considered in order to protect Baton Rouge and Louisiana. It must be an awesome responsibility to make a decision like that. I can only hope that all the people in my fair city consider the sacrifice others may have to make on our behalf. How will we conduct ourselves to show that this sacrifice was warranted? Oh wait, this is probably about capital more than human beings. Nevertheless I feel for those people who may be flooded for our benefit.

The ironic part is that the Mississippi actually wants to flow into the Atchafalaya. It would probably have made the switch a couple decades ago if humans hadn’t intervened. The American Rivers conservation organization posted an article yesterday, The Consequences of Controlling a River Course:

If the Mississippi River were to shift course, the effects would be devastating. Several cities would be inundated and might require relocation. Oil and gas pipelines throughout southern LA would rupture and commerce on the river and in New Orleans would be severely disrupted.

However, in ecological terms, the Louisiana coast would be revitalized. The western part of the Mississippi delta would receive the sediment and freshwater it has been deprived of for decades. Increased sediment distribution would reduce coastal erosion, and provide nutrient-rich sediments for terrestrial and aquatic habitat. Additionally, this would reduce Louisiana coastal wetland loss, which currently occurs at a rate of 1 acre every 38 minutes. The combined effects of these ecological benefits would ultimately increase the sustainability of Gulf Coast fisheries.

Something to think about.

And, while the Corps fiddles with control structures, I suppose there’s always the possibility that control could be lost, and the water will have its way. Who knows what will happen?

World Events

She Turned My World Upside Down

News from around the world certainly has been interesting of late. Unfortunately it shows no sign of letting up. I call that unfortunate because “interesting” usually means “bad” so far as news is concerned. Even when bad news doesn’t affect me directly, it’s troubling and problematic for me in two different ways.

Of course it makes me sad to read of people suffering anywhere, but it’s more than that. Like many people, I often don’t know what to do or how to react. For example, I started following the story about the conflict in Ivory Coast months ago. This was before the revolutions and unrest started sweeping through other parts of Africa and the Middle East. I guess it caught my attention because I’m a fan of the reggae singer Alpha Blondy, who’s from that country. The conflict, revolving around a contested election, dragged on and turned bloody and eventually a lot of people were killed. I think the final death toll was tallied in the thousands. I’m not sure of the factual details. I could look them up, but why bother? In fact, I wonder more and more what is the point of being an informed citizen of the world?

Americans are notoriously uninformed about world events, and I find that aspect of our national character rather depressing; but on the other hand I personally am surrounded by plenty of intelligent people who are quite well informed, and I still have to wonder: Where does it get us? So we know about stuff going on all over the globe. Do we use that information in any kind of meaningful way? For many of us, our participation in civic life begins and ends in the voting booth, with a choice between two highly unsatisfactory candidates. Being aware of a bloody crisis in Ivory Coast doesn’t really factor into that decision at all. I often say voting is the least of our civic duties. Being an informed voter takes time and energy, as does keeping abreast of world events. I’d much rather see people actively engaged in their local community. It’s great if people can do all these things, but in my experience a lot of people are running around busy, busy, busy, overwhelmed by the stresses and demands of modern life. I’m certainly no fan of ignorance, but I’m just saying if you need to tamp down your vociferous news consumption to make time for active engagement, you certainly have my approval.

I was talking about this to MaPó a couple days ago and she turned me on to Kiva Microfunds. I’ve heard about microfinance, and Kiva’s been around for years, but I’ve never investigated this before. So I invested $25 in a loan to a shopkeeper in Uganda. It would have been more “poetic,” or something, to invest in Ivory Coast, but Kiva doesn’t currently have any partners in Ivory Coast. Faith needed that last $25 to complete her loan of $650, so it seemed like a good first-time investment for me. It’s not much but at least it’s some sort of way to be involved globally.

(I hope it’s self-evident that I’m not offering the above as an example of “active engagement” in the “local community.” It’s not. In fact, it’s the opposite. My friend Heather Duke shared a quote from Mother Teresa via Facebook: “Start by helping the person closest to you.” I’m down with Mama T on that one. My local involvements are well-known to anyone who knows me, and those efforts represent an investment of far more than $25, though I primarily give of my time and energy, rather than my money. Localism has to come first, in my view. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I’m advocating we all invest in Kiva while ignoring our neighbors because I that would be a terrible idea.)

The other reason I find world events problematic is more personal and trivial: I constantly feel I should be writing about them here, even though I don’t have anything interesting to say. This is a journal of what’s going on in my life. When I read about a conflict elsewhere in the world, it’s not a part of my direct experience. But it can become an emotional force that impinges upon my consciousness such that I feel I have to account for it. If I leave it out I’m missing a major chunk of my day-to-day thoughts and feelings. Yet I really have nothing of substance to add beyond what’s reported in the media. For me to pontificate on the ramifications of the conflict in Ivory Coast would be the height of foolishness. So I’m left in a quandary, damned if I do, damned if I don’t.


The Church of I Am That I Am
The Church of I AM THAT I AM

It’s been a while, but I’m still aiming to catalog all the two-letter words in the English language. That brings us to am, which is a simple and common word. I’m sure you can use it in a sentence. But can you define it? According to the Wiktionary, it’s the “first-person singular simple present indicative form of be.” (I’ll deal with be later.) It’s a state-of-being verb, famously deployed in statements such as “I am that I am” and “I think therefore I am.” But both of those are translations from other languages: אהיה אשר אהיה (Ehyeh asher ehyeh) and Je pense, donc je suis or Cogito ergo sum. I’m trying to think of a famous am in original English but I’m drawing a blank. “I am a jelly donut,” perhaps? No, that’s Ich bin ein Berliner. Oh well.

Four words can be formed by adding a letter in front of am:

  1. An ama is a female nurse (possibly a wet nurse) who looks after children, a variant of amah, borrowed from India or China. It could also be goat-hair fabric or an outrigger float.
  2. An ami is a friend. I thought this was a French word, but apparently some sources consider it to have entered the English language.
  3. Amp is short for ampere, a unit of electrical measurement.
  4. An amu is an atomic mass unit, which is one of those acronyms that has evolved into a word, like scuba or radar. It must be tricky to figure out exactly when that happens.

Twelve words can be formed by adding a letter at the end of am:

  1. As Emiril likes to say when he kicks it up a notch: “Bam!”
  2. A cam is a little lopsided thing that turns around in various types of machinery.
  3. A dam is a thing that beavers and humans build.
  4. Gam is a slangy term for a leg, but also a collective noun for a group of whales, and apparently also a nautical verb for making a social visit at sea.
  5. I think ham is too common to need definition.
  6. Ditto jam.
  7. For some reason we’re all familiar with the phrase “on the lam,” but no one can seem to explain what a lam is, exactly.
  8. What, nam is a word? It’s listed in Webster’s 1913 as an obsolete term meaning “am not.” I think we should bring this one back. “I nam a crook!”
  9. Apparently there’s a card game called pam. The jack of clubs is the highest trump in the game, so you can also call that jack a pam.
  10. A ram is a mature male sheep.
  11. A tam is a Scottish cap, short for Tam o’ Shanter
  12. A yam is similar to a sweet potato. Some people use the terms interchangeably, but they are actually two separate and distinct tubers.

By the by, the two photos featured above are of a single church in New Orleans. The pictures were taken a year apart by two different photographers, and I guess the building was renovated in the interim. Neither of the photographers appears to live in New Orleans, and I doubt they’ve seen each others’ photos. Credits below.

The Church of I Am That I Am / Ari Frede / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The Church of I AM THAT I AM / Mills Baker / CC BY 2.0

May Madness

This used to be a mellow time of year for me. Mostly I work with faculty, and faculty tend to get very busy toward the end of the academic year. That means they have less time to work with me. But since 2009 that’s changed. There are two new factors that have made this a crazy time. We’ve started doing a week-long seminar that begins as soon as school ends. And then there are the honoree videos.

(The hike would be a third factor but we did it earlier than ever this year.)

The video project stems from when our new Vice-President of Academic Affairs instituted an teaching award. Each year, awards are given in three categories to junior and senior faculty, for a total of six awards. I was taken by surprise when I was asked to produce a video of each winner, to be shown at commencement. But when your boss’s boss’s boss asks you to do something, it’s generally a good idea to make him happy. So I’ve done my best at this task for three years now, though it’s just about the only video production I do at this job anymore.

This was an odd assignment, because the videos are extremely short — just 25 seconds each — and they have no audio. It’s just a little something to throw up on the screen while they announce each award.

I got my co-worker Jim, in Media Services, to help out. He did all the shooting. I set up the shoots, provided some direction, carried the tripod, and did all the editing.

We had to hustle to get them done because there’s a very narrow window of opportunity between when the winners are initially revealed and the commencement ceremony. It’s a lot of work and not much glory, but it’s mostly pleasant, and the short deadline means there’s a limit to the madness.

I just got the sixth video done yesterday, and then in the afternoon, I got a call: The script for this portion of commencement has been changed, shortened, and it no longer makes sense to show the videos. Instead, they decided to go with stills, which I exported from the videos.

No skin off my nose. Still, I’m a little bummed no one will see the results of our labor, so here with I present six short silent videos. I think they’re kind of cool, and in some small way they capture something of why I love working here.

You’ll note I didn’t shoot the video for that last one. We got that from Michael’s private archive. The University did not fly Jim and me out to the Middle East.

If they decide to stick with the still image format next year, I imagine they might ask the University photographer to take pictures of the honorees. If so, this may be the last time I’m involved. Which is fine with me. Our work in faculty development is inherently non-evaluative. We’ve worked for years to create a space on campus where faculty can explore issues around teaching without feeling judged. Being associated with these awards in any way has been slightly awkward. Perhaps this means next May will be less crazy for me.

Absalom, Absalom!

Absalom, Absalom!Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a good long while, but I finally finished a book by William Faulkner. I’d read a few pages from The Sound and the Fury a few decades ago, gave up, and avoided him like pellagra ever since. It took me almost half a year to finish Absalom, Absalom! but mainly that’s because I was reading with a support group that only met once a month.

Consider this description of language buried in the middle of Chapter VII:

that meager and fragile thread… by which the little surface corners and edges of men’s secret and solitary lives may be joined for an instant now and then before sinking back into the darkness where the spirit cried for the first time and was not heard and will cry for the last time and not be heard then either

Grim, eh? Now imagine a cast of characters pacing back and forth inside of this thing called language like animals in their cages. That’s how this narrative struck me.

It’s a dark and difficult book to be sure. In fact I read this for a group called “The Difficult Book Club.” One has to figure out how to read it. I recommend a slow but steady pace. This prose can’t be rushed; but if left too long, one loses the thread. When in doubt, try reading a passage aloud. It’s like poetry. It should not be a chore, though it can easily become one. Find the pleasure. Insist upon it.

Ultimately the book gives up its secrets in a most rewarding fashion. Upon finishing I turned back to Chapter I and it read like a completely different book. The words had not changed, only I had. What had previously seemed incomprehensible now made perfect sense. Moreover, I felt some of the mysteries of the Deep South had been illuminated, and that I now have a better and deeper understanding of this place where I live but was neither born nor bred.

Highly recommended, but not for everyone.