Smokey Haze

I’d heard there was a marsh fire out east, but we didn’t smell anything until Monday morning. By the time I left for work, I was surprised to see the streets of Mid-City were shrouded in gray smokey haze. It was bad enough that I wore a bandana over my face as I rode to campus.

Bandana

When I got up to my office on the fifth floor I could see the smoke extended as far as the eye could see.

Smoky

I guess the wind changed direction or something because it cleared up later in the day. Tuesday morning was also clear, but by mid-day it was smokier than ever.

Smokier

The smokey haze reminds me of my encounter with Joe Horn last Monday at WWL-TV.

Joe Horn at WWL-TV

He was cooking up something and the studio was filled with a smokey haze. The difference was, his haze smelled good. The smoke from the marsh fire smells nasty. In fact it’s sending people to the hospital.

In this morning’s paper I read that the area on fire is twice the size of City Park, which is mind-boggling to me. City Park is 1300 acres.

I see NOLA Defender beat me to the obligatory Neville Brothers reference but neglected to post a video, so… enjoy.

After the Tide

Rising Tide Sign

I’m actively looking for ways to integrate various aspects of my seemingly disparate interests. Having Rising Tide here on the campus of the university where I work was a major integrative accomplishment for me personally. I don’t mean that it was particularly onerous, because it wasn’t; but it was extremely gratifying. Of course I tend to think it’s also a major benefit to both the University and the conference itself. The participants get a great venue and the University gets a quality educational event. I love to see these things coming together.

That’s my windy way of saying that Rising Tide 6 was a screaming success, thanks to the work of countless volunteers over the last several months.

I was too busy to pay close attention to the actual programmatic content — but through the miracle of video technology and the yeomanlike efforts of Jason Berry, I’ll be able to catch up after the fact. And so can you.

Here’s the panel I helped put together for Rising Tide on “Social Media, Social Justice.”

Sadly Cherri Foytlin was stranded in Charlotte by Hurricane Irene so she does not appear, but thanks to Mary Joyce for filling in on short notice. Kimberly Joy Chandler moderates; other panelists are Jordan Flaherty, James Huck and Stephen Ostertag.

All the videos should be online by week’s end. By the way, over a thousand people tuned in to the webcast live. 1,249 to be exact. As Jason says, that’s “pretty damn good for the first outing and the little advertising we had for it.”

The event was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

There was a lot of great stuff on stage, but my favorite moment occurred in the hallway, when the police working the detail got into a friendly theological debate with one of our vendors, Grammy-winning soapmaker, William Terry.

Six Years Post-Katrina

Six years ago today I woke up in a hotel room in northern Mississippi with Xy and three cats. We turned on the television and saw Katrina ripping the roof off the Superdome. We decided to keep on trucking, and we headed up to Indiana to bunk with my in-laws for a few days. When I went to bed that night we all thought New Orleans had come through more or less intact. The Lower Ninth Ward was in trouble, but Katrina had jogged east and the core of the city was only lightly bruised. We thought we’d return later that week.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we learned the awful truth. The storm had passed, but the city was slowly filling up with water. How could this happen?

Contrary to the popular vernacular expression, the levees had not failed. The floodwalls along certain drainage canals had collapsed. These canals take water out of the city to the lake; now they were functioning in reverse, allowing high water in Lake Pontchartrain to come into the city. Street by street, block by block, the water came higher.

Orleans Parish Floodwall

That’s how our house and pretty near our whole damn neighborhood was flooded. As later came to light, the design flaw in the canals was known but not addressed. Now gates have been built on those canals that are supposed to prevent water from flowing the wrong way. Whether those gates will actually work is open to question.

And so came many days and years of rage and heartache. The experience has been harrowing, but it’s not unfathomable. Have you ever lost a loved one to senseless violence? I think it’s like that, except multiplied across a whole community.

We got through it. I personally have survived, and even thrived, and you might say that we were made whole in an economic sense. But I don’t exist in a vacuum. Xy’s career was upended, as all public school teachers were fired after Katrina. There’s a class action lawsuit on that issue that still awaits a ruling. And how can we ever be whole if our community is fractured and suffering?

And then there is this headline from today’s paper:
New Orleans levees get a near-failing grade in new corps rating system

I read that and sigh. We’ve got to do better.


As much as we like to style ourselves as different and unique, I think the challenges New Orleans faces are emblematic of the nation as whole — indeed, of the human race at this moment in history. Crumbling infrastructure, dysfunctional government, environmental degradation, social inequities, you name it. It’s all here in extreme form, but we’ve hardly cornered the market. These things are ubiquitous. We’re only reflecting and encapsulating the future we all share.

Friday Night in Smalltown City

So Friday morning as I was walking to the barbershop, I was thinking about Hurricane Irene. It may sound callous, but my thoughts were something like this: If Irene strikes an urban area, it won’t take long before some jackfool starts sounding off about how his community “handled it” better than New Orleans. But the comparison probably won’t be apt — unless your flood-control infrastructure fails so that 80% of your city is flooded for weeks on end. That’s what happened in New Orleans, after all. Try that on for size and see if your social fabric doesn’t unravel. Yet after every major urban disaster in America these last six years, some swaggering dork makes the comparison, usually with a dose of racial contempt thrown in for good measure.

Such were my thoughts, petty and self-centered as they were. I was aggravated, and I felt like sounding off about it. So I was in a particularly responsive mood when I got contacted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation a few hours later. Would I like to talk on live TV about Irene and Katrina? I sure as hell would.

That evening, I was slightly preoccupied with preparations for Rising Tide 6. (More on that later.) But I cut out of there around 6:30. The CBC had dispatched a driver to chauffeur me to a studio down in the Quarter. The driver’s name was Gregory. I got to talking with him about how it was that I would be called upon by the CBC. I explained how, in the months and years after Katrina, I’d talked to news media from all over the world because of this blog. Canadian radio had taken a special interest because Helen‘s husband was Canadian.

Just to be clear, Gregory isn’t Canadian. He’s a limo driver from St. John the Baptist parish. I just about fell out the car when he said. “I think I know that guy.” Sure enough, his girlfriend used to live next door to Paul and Helen’s Mid-City home. He used to call him “Dr. Pig” — because of Rosie.

And I thought to myself, not for the first time, and not for the last, what a small town New Orleans is.

We arrived at our destination, Talking Head Video. Just a couple doors down from the WWL studio (where I’d been talking up Rising Tide early Monday morning) I guess it’s the only for-hire facility in town with a satellite uplink. A guy with a headset and an accent (German?) greeted me and invited me to sit on a couch. “We’ve got someone before you, you can watch us on the TV.” I was sitting just feet from the open door of the tiny studio space, but I didn’t think to peer inside. The TV was tuned to MSNBC, showing coverage of Hurricane Irene. After about 15 minutes, they said, “We’re going live,” and closed the door to the studio. That’s when the anchor on MSNBC said, “And now we’re going live to New Orleans to talk to former mayor Ray Nagin.”

I just about crapped in my pants.

A few minutes later, he was done in the studio, and next thing I’m shaking hands with the man and we’re having a cordial little conversation. I don’t think he recognized me; I’m clean-shaven now, I have different glasses, my name was not mentioned.

You might think he wouldn’t know me anyhow, but this is smalltown city. People do pay attention to what you say here, and they do remember.

Nagin Listens to Editor B

But who’d’ve thought Irene would bring us back together?

I was still in something of a daze when I appeared on Connect with Mark Kelley. My appearance was incredibly brief, and I didn’t get a chance to mention my aggravations. Which is probably all for the best.

Gregory chauffeured me to the Rising Tide pre-party at Tracey’s. I started all my conversations the same way for the rest of the evening: “You’ll never guess who I just shook hands with.”

Photo credit: Nagin Listens to Editor B by Derek Bridges

B&w

I’ll take this article with a grain of salt, but I did find the parenthetical explanation of the racial politics of capitalization helpful.

Readers frequently write to ask why I capitalize “Black” but not “white”. Often the question comes with racial resentment attached: there is a feeling that the use of the capital letter reveals some sneaky political agenda. The reason is not some kind of bending-over-backwards PC leftie orthodoxy; it is because I think the terms refer to two different kinds of groups. African Americans are an American ethnic group like Irish Americans, Mexican Americans, German Americans or Jewish Americans. We normally capitalize the name of such ethnic groups: Tibetans, Kurds, Jews, Gypsies. White in America is not one ethnic group; it is a larger, less defined group who do not share the kind of strong common identity that smaller groups do. White is an attribute but it is not an identity. I don’t capitalize black when referring to black Africans or Jamaicans; using the capital letter is a way to specify American Blacks, not blacks at large. It’s eccentric, maybe, but it seems logical.

I’ve long used lowercase for both descriptors. Capitalizing “white” felt wrong; I thought I was being egalitarian by not capitalizing “black” either, even though I saw that many respected writers did so. The usage guides I’ve read over the years offered unsatisfactory meditations that left me scratching my head. But I find this pretty convincing.

Unreduced

Pistolette is quitting coffee for a couple weeks, so I thought I’d revisit the topic myself.

I noted back in March that I’d started my eighth coffee reduction earlier than usual this year. Normally I wait until the weather gets hot, but this year I discovered the joy of dandelion coffee: roasted dandelion root + roasted chicory root = delicious.

Dandelion Coffee

(Thanks to Elana for the recipe.)

I was feeling good, everything was groovy — and then something happened. The Harvard School of Public Health announced the result of a study, which indicated that coffee may reduce risk of lethal prostate cancer in men. Among other things, the study found:

  • Men who consumed the most coffee (six or more cups daily) had nearly a 20% lower risk of developing any form of prostate cancer.
  • The inverse association with coffee was even stronger for aggressive prostate cancer. Men who drank the most coffee had a 60% lower risk of developing lethal prostate cancer.
  • The reduction in risk was seen whether the men drank decaffeinated or regular coffee, and does not appear to be due to caffeine.
  • Even drinking one to three cups of coffee per day was associated with a 30% lower risk of lethal prostate cancer.

Well, that took the wind out of my coffee-free sails. After all, cancer prompted my dad to have a radical prostatectomy several years ago, so the risk would appear to run in my family. I’d like to avoid that if possible. If gulping gallons of coffee might make a significant difference, well, why not?

So I got back on the bean, and I’ve been swilling java all summer long.

And you know what? It kind of sucks. I’ve enjoyed taking half the year off from coffee.

Hopefully further research will identify the beneficial components of coffee, antioxidants perhaps, and maybe I’ll find another way to ingest them.

A Necessary Failure?

Circle of Chairs

Over the past year or two I’ve become increasingly interested in the idea of contemplative pedagogy. This is the notion that we can foster a more thoughtful way of living and learning in our students and in ourselves by cultivating reflective and meditative practices in our teaching.

To this end, I’ve relished the opportunity to engage in a series of discussions on this topic with faculty, and I’ve challenged myself to incorporate contemplative practices into these sessions whenever appropriate.

Most recently I had the opportunity to lead a short discussion with participants in the Faculty Communities of Teaching Scholars. Our theme this year is “Promoting Critical Thinking and Self-Authorship in the First Two Years.” Contemplative practices seem like a perfect fit for developing self-authorship, and so once again I attempted to teach by example. As we were thinking so intensely about our students’ needs and capacities, I decided to conduct a loving-kindness meditation. Also known as Metta Bhavana, this is an ancient practice from the Buddhist tradition. I modified the typical practice to focus specifically on our students.

In some ways, I may have been overreaching. I am not a practicing Buddhist, and more to the point I had never done Metta Bhavana before. Nevertheless, I went forward with it. I even went so far as to rearrange our classroom into a configuration more conducive to the practice.

I was fairly pleased with the results. Certainly I did get some good feedback from the participants, with at least one person saying she repeated the practice later on her own time. That’s wonderful.

All the same, in some ways I consider the exercise at least a partial failure. The problem was not the practice itself, I think, so much as what followed. I was so intent on preparing for the Metta Bhavana itself that I did not attend to the context. I failed to make a strong connection between the meditative practice and the larger conversations that had been emerging in the classroom over the previous days. That left some participants wondering what to make of it all.

But if this was a failure, at least it was an educational and perhaps necessary one. I learned a valuable lesson. Several in fact. Always attend the context. Always make the connection. When trying something new, don’t neglect these important basics.

Cross-posted at CAT Food (for thought)

Freecycling Glass

A couple months ago I expounded on the difficulties of glass recycling. A friend on Facebook suggested selling bottles on Etsy or eBay as craft supplies. That sounded like too much trouble, but it got me thinking. Once I’d accumulated a bin full of marginally interesting empties, I posted to Freecycle New Orleans. Xy was skeptical, but I had four or five people express an interest. It took a few days, but one of these people finally took the bottles off my hands. You can insert your tired cliche about trash and treasure here.

Meanwhile my Freecycle request for a pair of outdoor speakers has sadly gone unanswered.

Three and a Half

Donation

Dear Persephone,

You are three and a half years old today. Last year, on your half-birthday, I cajoled you into giving away two of your toys to Goodwill. I thought we should revisit that concept, so I showed you some photos from back then which I hoped would serve to get you in the spirit. Unfortunately, your immediate reaction was a longing for the stuffed lamb you had given away. You burst into tears. “I want my lamb!” But eventually you came around. Once again I drew pictures for you, showing a girl who had too many toys and a girl who had none. You picked out three toys to give away, and we made a run to the neighborhood Goodwill just before bedtime.

So, now it’s a tradition.

The idea I’m trying to promulgate is not benevolence or philanthropy, fine as those might be. Rather I’m hoping you can learn a bit of detachment from material things. On the way to the Goodwill, we talked about how so many things are more important than physical possessions. You wanted to know, “What is more important?” People, I said. Living things. Beauty. Relationships. Ideas. Love.

I also figured you’re now tall enough to ride the boats at Big Lake in City Park. You’re technically not quite 36″ yet, but with your favorite pink cowgirl boots on, no one can tell. Alas, even though it was my idea to celebrate your half-birthday with a paddle-boat ride, we had Daisy and Lavender along, and there was no room for me in the boat. I stayed on shore. I did catch a nice sunburn though.


Our neighbor Olivia Rose celebrated her first birthday with a big party. All on your own, you picked one of your toys, a plush flower, to give to her — a rose, very appropriate and very sweet.

While we were at that party, you met a woman who admired your name and asked you if you knew about the story behind it. You were very quiet and shy, giving off a distinctly nonverbal babyish vibe, almost like you hadn’t learned to talk. She continued to coax you. “Do you know the story of Persephone?” At last you cocked your head to one side and said, “I have a book of Greek myths.”

Which is true. I’ve been reading myths to you over the last couple weeks, usually before bed. Our nighttime routine hasn’t changed much, but we have made one significant adjustment, at your behest. Instead of book/story/song, the sequence is now book/song/story.

I told you the story of Cinderella one night, substituting you in the title role. I’m not a big fan of the Disney princess phenomenon, but you do love to be “in the story.” However, what with your mother dying and your father disappearing, you found the whole premise rather upsetting, and you burst into tears. Sorry about that.

After your bedtime story, I almost always leave you with a promise to check back in a little bit. You almost always protest, “I’m not tired.” You are usually asleep within the next five minutes. Sometimes you do call me back. One night a few weeks ago, you called me back into your room to say, “Dada, tonight don’t check on me, because I’m asleep now.”

Another night I heard some strange howls coming from your room. When I checked back you told me, “I’m pretending to be an owl. Whoooo! Whooooooooo!” You still like to give a good hoot from time to time.

Owls are cool, but your favorite animals over the past month have been jaguars and opossums. One morning after we got the newspaper, you told me the headline read “Possums Today.” That meant we had to pretend to be an opossum family all day long.

I’ve been baking bread pretty much every Sunday. You like to help and pretend that you’re the Little Red Hen. My first batch of dough on Lammas was a little on the wet side, leading you to exclaim, “My feathers are so sticky!”

I took you to what I believe was your first-ever Sunday morning church service, at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Lakeview. The highlight for you was getting to put a couple quarters in the offering plate.

I occasionally give you my pocket change, which you keep in a little metal box. I think you’ve got about 45 cents in there now. But as you put it, “I have so much money, I’m going to be a princess teacher movie star when I grow up.” A little later you added, “I have to work hard so I can be the world’s bestest girl.”

I think the cutest thing you’ve said all month might be, “You’re going to send me to strawberries!” I believe you meant, “drive me bananas.” But i think I prefer your version.

Let’s see, what else? Oh yes, you also had your first day of school ever. No big deal. Actually you’ve only had two half-days so far, but the transition has been very smooth. Next month I can give you a full report.

First Day of School

Today was Persephone’s first day of school ever.

First Day of School

She’s going to a small Catholic school on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. I never thought I’d be sending my daughter there, but it’s the same school where Xy teaches, so the convenience is unbeatable. There are precious few publicly-funded pre-K3 programs in town. We don’t get any price breaks thru Xy, but it so happens that tuition is cheaper than daycare. We could pay $7K for another ten months of daycare, or $4K for school. Easy choice, really.

The girl took it all in stride. She was neither anxious nor particularly excited. I thought it might be rough adjusting to a new and earlier morning routine, but it was all very smooth.

So far, so good.

The High Value of Cheap Counsel

Passing from Infancy to Manhood (Fractal Flame ref. round-100-2-212)

Back when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, I availed myself of counseling services at the Center for Human Growth twice.

The first time was when I was an undergraduate living in the Collins LLC. The Center for Human Growth was nearby at that time, and at some point I became aware of them and decided it would be interesting to check it out. The Center offers low-cost counseling to anyone who needs it. I’m not sure if I had a pressing issue — that was twenty-some years ago, and my recollections are somewhat vague. I think I may have gone out of general principle. We could all use some counsel from time to time, as a matter of good mental hygiene. I might have been in the throes of breaking up with my girlfriend, or trying to quit smoking, or something else; I’m really don’t remember. I do recall feeling my series of sessions was extremely beneficial to my personal development, and I’ve been an advocate of counseling ever since.

A decade or so later, as my dad and I were struggling to come to terms, we sought counseling. First we went to a guy in private practice who was recommended by a friend. He was expensive. Probably his rates were standard, but he was much too expensive for me to share the cost, given my lack of income at the time. So my father was footing the bill. Dad didn’t like the guy much, and when the going got tough we almost foundered.

Fortunately we ended up back at the Center for Human Growth. Their fees were so low that I was able to pay a share, which felt much better. (I don’t remember what they charged in the 80s or 90s, but I see on their website it’s now $15 per session, which is extraordinarily cheap.) The sessions were not easy. It’s hard work to salvage a relationship. But the counselors were extremely helpful and very professional. I give a lot of credit to the Center for the fact that I’m still on speaking terms with my parents today.

I think this underlines the problem with counseling: It does tend to be expensive. It usually involves an educated person working with you one-on-one. The counselor has to charge a high fee to make a living. But for many people, spending a lot on counseling fees only adds an element of stress, at a time when they are likely most vulnerable and really don’t need that extra stress. So the benefits of counseling tend to be limited to the well-to-do, or those who are truly at the end of their rope. That’s my impression, anyhow.

In my utopian dreams, I imagine a world where we all visit counselors from time to time, from a very young age, and not just when we’re in crisis. Counseling is so beneficial that we should share the cost of underwriting it, to make it cheaply available to all. I think a proactive approach would have enormous benefits to society as a whole.

All these ruminations are a sort of preface to my query. Do we have anything like the Center for Human Growth in New Orleans? Given how often I’ve heard about the dearth of mental health services, I suspect that we do not. But if we do, I’d love to know about it.

Graphic: Passing from Infancy to Manhood (Fractal Flame ref. round-100-2-212) by Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli, licensed under Creative Commons

In the Path

Mattress

My main way of getting to work over the past decade has been on a bicycle; much of my ride has been on the Jeff Davis bike path. It’s so much less stressful to me than driving a car, and I am so glad I don’t have to start my day in an automobile. Nevertheless, I do encounter obstacles and hazards from time to time. I try not to get annoyed. But as I’ve noted previously, it’s “interesting how much annoyance seems to cluster around transportation. Getting from Point A to Point B is fraught with stress-inducing potential.”

As I often ride with a camera, it’s become an almost involuntary reflex to document problems on the bike path as I run into them. And so, just as I recently realized that I now have a little archive of back to school photos, I also realized I have an archive of bike-path problems. In fact, the fifth photo I posted to Flickr was of a mattress on the path, way back in 2004.

So I’d like to present this set of… Continue reading In the Path

Tales Highlights, Part III

Probably my favorite thing about having a media credential for Tales of the Cocktail is breakfast. And of course lunch, but a good breakfast is essential. There’s a super-secret room where presenters, media and VIPs get to tie on the feedbag. Each meal has a different sponsor, usually a distiller. Cocktails are served, of course, and the food complements or incorporates the featured spirits. For example, the Bulleit lunch included salad with bourbon vinaigrette, bourbon glazed chicken, bourbon braised brisket, potatoes with bourbon gravy, and bread pudding with bourbon sauce. Get the idea? I also met Hollis Bulleit, and from Tom Bulleit I learned that their new rye is made in Indiana. I made sure to pick up some Bulleit Rye soon after Tales ended. Good stuff.

That was a delicious meal, but my favorite of all was the breakfast sponsored by Pisco Portón. I had ceviche, quail, andouille and potatoes, coffee, pisco smoothie.

Snapper Ceviche

I’ve been making ceviche for a year now, as I’ve mentioned recently. But this was the first time I got to taste some I didn’t make myself. (Well, except for that Canton ceviche I tasted at Tales back in 2009, but that was in a very different style.) I felt extremely validated, as it tasted more or less like mine. Conclusion: I must be doing it right.

Strangely enough I also ran into Judy Walker of the Times-Picayune. It was her column that got me crazed for ceviche in the first place.


I had a little gap in my schedule and so found myself unexpectedly gawking as Jon Santer cut through a 300 lbs. block of ice.

Anu Apte and Andrew Bohrer can be seen catching snow for juleps. Madness! Andrew described this as the “least philosophical seminar” at Tales: “It’s using a tool to cut a thing.” Andrew’s posted more videos and his slides. His blog is really quite a lot of fun, so check it out. See especially Ten Rules of Drinking Like a Man.


Did you know that Pierre Ferrand launched their 1840 Original Formula Cognac at Tales this year?

Pierre Ferrand 1840

It should be available around the country by now, but they started in the New Orleans market. According to Kevin Gray, this style of Cognac is well suited to mixing in cocktails. Cognac was once a very popular cocktail ingredient, and it seems to be resurgent, which is fine by me. Brandy is my favorite spirit. I’ve got a couple of these 1840 sample bottles which I hope to revisit when the time is right.

More to come.

Back to School

It’s become a tradition to take a photo of Xy as she heads off to her first day of classes.

Back to School

I realized this morning that we’ve been doing this for long enough that I have built up quite a little archive, going back to 2005, just a few days before Katrina.

Back to School

Back to School

Back to School

Back to School

First Day of School

Teacher

These photos kind of recapitulate our lives over last six years. Even though I always feel a great deal of pride when she embarks on a new year of teaching, reviewing these pictures also makes me a little sad. She’s still reeling from the brutal year she had in 09-10. A year like that can really undermine one’s confidence. (Her recent surgery has not made things any easier either; she’s recovering but there have been some anxiety issues along the way.) Teachers across the country have had it rough but here in New Orleans they’ve been kicked to the curb repeatedly, used and abused, underpaid and overworked and repeatedly disrespected.

Seeing the real human toll on someone you love isn’t pleasant.

When Xy comes home exhausted and overwrought, I don’t know how to advise her. Oh, I have plenty to say. I’m brimming over with perky little self-help ideas, I’m just not sure if it helps her in any way. It might be better if I was just the “strong silent type,” but I’m more the kind of guy who wants to get in there and fix stuff. It’s a fairly typical masculine mindset, I suppose. But we have such different working environments, and our psychologies are just different enough, that I don’t know if she finds much value in anything I say. But my frustration is only a fraction of what Xy feels.

Each year starts with such high hopes, only to end deeper in discouragement and despair. I worry. Yes, I do.

But enough gloom. Teaching is hard work, but the world needs good teachers, and these teachers need our love and support. Give a teacher a hug, or a word of appreciation, or better yet a nice home-cooked meal. That’s my plan.

Welcome Home You Blue-Haired Freak

Twenty-five years ago —

Welcome Home

I came home from Sweden with blue hair, much to my parents’ shock and my sister’s delight.

At least I think she was delighted. Kind of hard to tell in this photo. Certainly I was glad to be back home. It was a great experience, my year abroad, but it was also hard, the hardest year of my (admittedly easy) life, in fact — until 2005 rolled around.

The blue was already beginning to wash out by this time, revealing the bleached blond underneath.

I’m wearing a gray flannel three piece suit I picked up at a secondhand shop in Stockholm. In this getup I felt like a rock star, and I pretended to be one on the flight home. I’m not sure anyone was fooled except maybe myself.

A Couple Fun Things I Did Recently

Sometimes it’s tough working with faculty. They have the summer off, and lots of them take extended vacations. Then they come back raving about what a fantastic time they had. Which is great, except sometimes I start to get a little jealous. So I thought I’d take a moment to remind myself of some fun things I’ve done recently.

Friday night, Xy & P were away on a “camping” trip, and so I was left to fend for myself. It was raining but I didn’t let that stop me. I rode my bike to the New Orleans Museum of Art. They do special stuff on Friday nights. The goings-on are typically cool enough that I don’t even wince at the heading “Where Y’Art?” Last time there we saw Quintron. On this particular night was the opening of the new exhibition, The Elegant Image: Bronzes from the Indian Subcontinent in the Siddharth K. Bhansali Collection. In celebration, they had live music by Guy Beck. I did a double-take. I recognized that name. I once checked out his album of sacred ragas from the New Orleans Public Library. I didn’t realize he’s a local. There were also Indian women in colorful saris striking dramatic poses on the steps in the atrium. I got there just in time for an exhibit walk-through led by Lisa Rotondo-McCord (who happens to be married to the guy who once occupied my office). I’ve never done one of these before, and despite being slightly damp from the rain, I enjoyed it immensely. The bronzes are mostly figurines from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions, including some of the oldest Jain bronzes in existence. Highly recommended.

Also the piece hanging in the atrium right now, Thalassa by Swoon, is worth a visit.

Saturday afternoon I made a run deep into Lakeview to visit the hardware store. It’s a shame that after six years we still don’t have a hardware store in Mid-City, but I digress. I had P with me, and on the way back home she pointed out a brick house and observed that, “Some house are made out of bricks.” Sure nuff, I said, and pointed to the large brick building across the street, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. One thing led to another, and we ended up at the 10 AM worship service the next morning. At least one friend expressed surprise at this turn of events. It’s crucially important to me that my daughter have a full and well-rounded sense of her society, and the church is clearly a part of our society. I also treasure curiosity and want to do whatever I can to nurture that. As for the experience itself, it was mostly over her head, as she’s too young to sing from the hymnal or read the liturgy or understand the scripture. The highlight for her was getting to put a couple quarters in the offering plate. For my part I’ve got say, they have some nice stained glass there, but I was unprepared for the rampant anti-Baalism of the sermon. We slipped out during the Eucharist.

Respect

One of my core values is the idea of respecting others. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But like many deeply cherished values, it tends to get a bit complicated under intense scrutiny. In fact I have often considered myself a misanthrope, which might seem to be at odds with respecting others.

It’s easy for me to feel respectful in my typical daily routine, because I have the good fortune to be surrounded by people whom I find it easy to respect. For the most part, the people closest to me are not domineering assholes nor extremely needy nor highly dysfunctional. A lot of them are in fact beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, righteous people. I love them, and it’s easy to respect those you love.

If I deviate much from my social comfort zone, however, I’m liable to encounter people where the ideal of mutual respect is much more difficult. Sometimes, such deviations are thrust up unexpectedly, and I have a crisis of conscience.

For example, Friday morning, as I rode to work, I encountered a man who appeared to be sleeping on the bike path.

untitled

The reason I started this off by writing about respect is that I realized I do not know how to act respectfully to this man. One might say that he was not treating himself with respect, and therefore not deserving of respect from others. Perhaps there’s some validity to that perspective, but my thoughts don’t tend to run that way. I feel like I should do something, but I don’t know what the respectful course of action might be.

At first glance, it would seem he had too much too drink and was sleeping it off. I don’t know that for a fact, of course. Perhaps he fainted. Perhaps he has a medical condition. Perhaps his life is in danger. At the very least, he’s in danger of being run over by a bicycle, or getting dehydrated under the Louisiana sun. It’s August, after all.

I don’t want to interact with him directly. I don’t have any medical training. I’m on my way to work. What am I going to do, prod him in the ribs? “Hey, buddy, are you OK?” I’m afraid he might be incoherent or surly or even dangerous. Again, he appears to have been engaging in behavior that is so far outside my experience that I’m at a loss. I don’t have the first clue how to approach him.

It would be nice if I could just call on someone else. After all, I live in a society, right? It seems there should be some means of helping people who are in immediate need. But calling the cops is out of the question; he’d likely end up in jail or maybe even worse. Could I call 911 and get a medic on the scene? Are they equipped to deal with this scenario, or are they going to want cops present for their own protection? If he in fact is simply drunk, is he going to be handed off to the police anyhow? I’d assert that someone who drinks to that level of excess needs medical help. Possibly he needs a home. But what are the chances he would get that if I call 911?

I keep envisioning scenarios wherein any intervention actually makes matters worse.

I mentioned I was on my way to work twice already. Maybe that’s the primary factor here. I’m going about my business, usually running a little behind the clock. I don’t want to get into someone else’s business, especially when it looks like it might get messy.

In the end, I did nothing. Well, that’s not quite true. I realized I had my camera, so I turned around and snapped a photo. But I didn’t do anything to help him. When I passed by again he was gone.

What do you do in a situation like this?