O.A.K., Burning

Last night Xy and I rode our bikes uptown for the Midsummer Mardi Gras celebration. This takes place every year in late August. I guess that qualifies as “the middle of summer,” never mind the fact that midsummer is technically the first day of summer, which falls in late June. It’s confusing enough even if you’re sober, and nobody’s sober at Midsummer Mardi Gras. For sure it’s the hottest, sweatiest, stickiest time of year in New Orleans — in other words, perfect time for a pack of half-naked drunkards to strut through the dark uptown streets accompanied by a funk-blastin’ brass band. It’s the Krewe of O.A.K second line parade. O.A.K. stands for “outrageous and kinky.”

What freaked me out more than anything else was how big this thing’s gotten. I guess it’s been going for 18 years or so. When I did it a couple years ago, it was relatively tiny. Now it’s huge. There were motorized vehicles: a bunch of golf carts with giant heads on top. And there were political ads: Una Anderson is running for re-election to the school board, and she had signs and literature all over. And there was a “real” brass band there: the Li’l Stooges.

Somehow the whole thing seemed a little crazier and a bit more fun when it wasn’t so massive. But it was still a good time. The coolest thing I saw a guy (Frenchie?) with a light strapped to his head and a canvas mounted in front of him via a chest harness; he was dancing and painting a picture of the parade. I saw Heather Weathers there with the Pussyfooters. There was a also a large contingent of scantily-clad women called the Bearded Oysters. A Xavier prof was with the Not-So-Swift Boat Veterans for Bush. And of course there was an Olympic Synchronized Drinking Team.

My friend David Bryan was dressed as a priest. He decanted Jesus Juice all night: red wine spiked with Skol vodka. Every bit as nasty as it sounds, I’m sure, but I was already too anesthetized to care.

The parade starts at the Maple Leaf and proceeds to Carrollton Station, then to Snake & Jake’s, then back to the Maple Leaf. Xy and I got some grub, then rode our bikes back to Mid-City.

We got to bed around two or three o’clock Sunday morning. Then, around five o’clock, Xy heard sirens, and discovered that the house across the street was on fire. Yikes! It’s been divided into four apartments, and huge flames were shooting up from the back of an unoccupied unit. It was really quite terrifying, but the fire was extinguished in short order and no one was hurt.

Thursday Night, Friday Morning

Thursday night means pub trivia at the Crown & Anchor. That can sometimes lead to Vaughn’s to see Kermit Ruffins, if I’m lucky.

Tonite I got lucky.

Kermit rocks. And I say this despite the fact that he never ventures into the rock idiom. He’s all about the jazz. Cool, sweet jazz — in the heat of the summer, that’s just fine. Hearing Kermit tonite made me feel good inside and out.

Quarter Cats

A few nights ago, Xy & I walked past Jackson Square with our friend David Bryan after coffee and beignets.

The park is locked at night, but through the bars we’ve often observed cats — lots of cats — cavorting or merely lolling about. I’ve counted as many as twenty cats within spitting distance of the gate on St. Ann Street. Indeed, I’ve never seen so many cats in such close proximity.

But on this particular night, there was nary a feline in sight. We wondered aloud: “Where are all the cats?”

Being that we were in the Quarter, we didn’t have to wait for an answer. A dishevelled woman who happened to be shuffling past replied immediately: “Underground. There are tunnels.”

Murder Times Six

There were so many murders in New Orleans yesterday that a shooting near our house didn’t even make the news. Xy heard shots fired around 5pm. Apparently no one was hurt. A few hours earlier and just a few blocks further, a thirteen-year-old boy shot a sixteen-year-old boy in the face by accident. He’s in the hospital and not doing so well. Meanwhile, six people were killed in four separate incidents throughout the city.

Later in the evening, Xy and I walked to our favorite ice cream shop, which is about ten blocks from our house. We went out of principle as much as anything. Hiding in our house won’t solve any problems. Going to the ice cream shop doesn’t accomplish much either, but at least we’re out and about in the neighborhood.


Update — The boy who was shot in the head died, and two more people were killed overnight. That brings the death toll to nine in just 28 hours.

Pepto-Davis

Someone hit the Jeff Davis statue again last night.

Pepto Davis

The last graffiti was cleaned up in a day or two. This morning, the red spray-painted “slave owner” tag was there again, in exactly the same place, plus a generous splash of Pepto-Bismol pink. By the time I came back with a camera, the “slave owner” label had been erased. The pink paint will be tough to remove.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this is the weekend of a big celebration all up and down Canal Street, marking the return of the streetcar.


Update — later the same day: They’ve already got the pink paint off.

Slave Owner

One fun thing about my morning ride to work is checking the Jefferson Davis statue on Canal Street to see if it’s been defaced.

Looks like someone scored a major hit last night.

Jefferson Davis, Slave Owner

Slave Owner

Uproar

(The “Uproar” tag actually appeared the yesterday.)

Murder

Today, just after noon, a teenage boy was shot in the head just a block and a half from our house.

Adams

He’s dead now.

There have been so many shootings in the past 24 hours that this only merited 15 seconds on the nightly news. But since we live in the neighborhood, we know more than what was reported on TV.

For one thing, we know the killer, who is still at large. He is also a teenager. His name is L—. Once he helped Xy carry her bags. She says he’s very nice.

He is also a drug dealer, and that probably had something to do with whatever dispute led to the shooting.

The boy who got shot is called Pissy, but we didn’t know him.

The girls who live across the street were disturbed by all this and so they spent some time at our house today. Apparently the rumor was going around that Pissy was shot by a white man. I don’t know what to make of that.

It’s sad, but I’ve gotten so used to hearing and reading about murders in the city that this doesn’t surprise or disturb me very much at all.


Update — May 12th, 2004: L— turned himself in:

An 18-year-old New Orleans man wanted in the shooting death of a 15-year-old on Saturday a few blocks from Canal and North Broad streets turned himself in to authorities Tuesday, police said.

L— H—, 1219 France Road, was booked with second-degree murder in the death of Preston Turner, who was shot not far from his home, police said.

H— is accused of being one of two occupants in a car that drove up to Turner in the 300 block of North Gayoso Street shortly before 12:30 p.m.

At least one of the men fired from the car, striking Turner several times, police said.

Turner died at the scene, police said.

Update — July 9th, 2004: L— has been charged with first-degree murder:

L— H—, 18, was charged with the first-degree murder of Preston Turner, a 15-year-old who was gunned down May 8 in the 300 block of North Gayoso Street. Turner was shot and killed about 12:30 p.m., after telling his cousin he was going out to get something to eat.

First-degree murder carries either the death penalty or life in prison upon conviction.

Jazz Fest

I finally got religion. Here’s how it happened.

Here in New Orleans, Jazz Fest is a big deal. A really big deal. I mean, people talk about it like they might talk about sex or drugs. They compare it to Mardi Gras, and say that it’s better. People come from all over the country — and the world — to check it out.

And the season is upon us. The 35th Annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival started this weekend and continues next weekend. It’s in our area of town, and so we see more tourists and locals than usual, passing through on their way to the Fairgrounds.

Hmph. Call me a Philistine, but I’ve never seen the appeal. The musical acts are mostly earthy, rootsy stuff. I prefer my music a little more twisted and alienated. This is awkward when I have to explain to people why I’m not gushing with enthusiasm about the prospect of getting crushed by huge sweaty crowds in the sweltering heat so I can glimpse a video screen of a distant performer I don’t give a shit about.

Of course the truth is that I’ve only gone once before.

This year, a co-worker gave me a pair of free tickets. So XY and I smoked up and rode our bikes to the Fairgrounds to check it out. To my pleasant surprise, we had a great time. In fact, I’ll go one further: It was pure bliss. The weather was just about perfect, or as close as one could expect in New Orleans at ths time of year: blistering sun alternating with cooler cloudy moments and occasional sprinkles of rain. No, we didn’t take in any of the musical acts, except for watching a bit of Native American drumming and chanting and dancing. Mostly we looked at the arts and crafts on display.

And we ate. Ahhh, yes, this was what it was all about. I had:

  • Tunisian lamb stew
  • BBQ oyster spinach salad
  • pheasant gumbo
  • bread pudding

And washed it all down with a couple cans of Foster’s Ale. Damn, but that’s some good eatin’.

I still don’t think you can compare Mardi Gras to Jazz Fest. It’s like comparing apples and coconuts. But I feel relieved to know that I can now commiserate with my fellow citizens on some of the joys of Jazz Fest.

Streetcar Book

Edward J. Branley gave a talk at my favorite bookstore tonight about his new book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line. I rode my bike uptown to check it out, and it was pretty cool. One of the photos in his presentation was an aerial shot of my neighborhood from 1927, and you can just make out our house. We are a block from the streetcar barn, after all, but I hadn’t realized that there was a streetcar barn at that location since the beginning of the Canal line. The photo is also in his book and on the companion website, CanalSteetCar.com.

It was fun to meet Ed, whom I’ve conversed with on-line. He also maintains CitiesOfTheDead.net and some other sites, and he hangs out on the nolahistory list.

Streetcar

After a forty-year interruption, streetcar service has been restored to Canal Street in New Orleans.

The first stop, at Canal and Salcedo, is just a block and a half from our house, so I thought I’d check it out. Despite the early hour — 3:10 AM — there was a large crowd gathered there. People were handing out souvenir doubloons and commemorative pins. A guy with a clipboard was having people sign up in order. I was number 58.

There were plenty of people there who remembered riding this streetcar line back in the proverbial day, until it was discontinued in 1964.

As the big moment approached, people formed a line, and it may have approximated the numeric order on the guy’s clipboard, but it seemed like a big jumble. When the streetcar pulled up, it stopped short of where the line had formed, to the consternation of the people at the head. I’m not sure, but I think Warren Bell may have been the first customer, or close to it.

There were some boos but people were generally friendly and a good mood pervaded the crowd. Some guys were singing songs like, “O Lord I want to be on that streetcar when the saints go marching in.” I was busy videotaping, and I just didn’t feel like jostling to try to get on board, so I didn’t actually ride the streetcar. Instead I watched it take off, then came back home to write this. It’s a quarter ’til four in the morning, and I’ve got to get up in about three hours if I’m going to make it to Baton Rouge for the Green Party of Louisiana presidential caucus.


Update — I was on the front page of the Monday paper!

Streetcar Debut

What’s that? You can’t see me? Here I am:

Front Page

I’m famous!

Murder

Last month, a woman named Mai Thi Nguyen was killed here in New Orleans as she worked behind the counter at a grocery store. It was an attempted robbery that turned into a senseless murder.

Three men were arrested. One of the men was released two weeks ago. The judge said the surveillance tapes and the eyewitness testimony indicated that he was just an innocent bystander.

Yesterday the District Attorney’s Chief Homicide Investigator came to my office with those surveillance tapes. The Campus Police Chief asked me to help him “enhance” the video. They seem to believe the tapes show the man was an accomplice to the crime, a lookout for the two masked robbers.

So I’ve been watching video of this stupid, horrific crime over and over. The first thing that impressed me was how quick it happens. The robbers enter the store, demand money, shoot the woman, and flee; this takes a total of ten seconds.

As for the man who was released — is he innocent, or was he in on it? The case seems pretty weak to me. It boils down to a couple of ambiguous gestures: a raised hand, a turned head. (I’m highlighting these gestures, zooming in on them, slowing the video down.) I think he’s probably innocent. I don’t feel good about doing this work, but then again I don’t think it will have much effect. I don’t think the judge will change his mind on the basis of this “enhanced” video.

Pyle Quote

They say that when you get within a hundred miles you begin to feel a little drunk on just the idea of New Orleans… That is true. Anything you may say about New Orleans, good or bad, is true.

— Ernie Pyle

XMAS NOLA 2002

So it’s Christmas Eve, and I’m eating lunch at Coop’s Place in the Quarter with my in-laws. The waiter there is a perpetual stoner. For the holidays he’s wearing a Santa hat and a blinking red-and-green stud in his beard. An old biker dude is hobbling out of the restaurant on crutches, and the waiter is jovially harrasssing him.

“Come on, Tiny Tim,” says the waiter to the biker dude. “Say it. Say it! You know you want to say it.”

The biker dude turns on his crutches and addresses the patrons and says in a solemn voice, reciting the famous line from A Christmas Carol: “God bless us, everyone!” There is scattered clapping. He grins and hobbles out onto Decatur Street.

But a few seconds later, he’s back. He announces to the patrons with equal solemnity: “Fuck every human being!” Thunderous applause.

I’m not sure I remember that line in Dickens.

More Fungus

I’ve been getting a lot of questions regarding my last post. I’ll try to answer them here.

It’s been incredibly frustrating trying to find specific information. I don’t even know its common name, much less the scientific one. People just call it “the fungus.” Most people don’t seem to know much about it, or even care — except for the people who actually grow the stuff, but they contradict one another wildly.

In fact, Dortmund (a German guy who’s pretty big into the whole scene here) assures me that it isn’t even really a fungus at all. But he won’t be more specific.

It is usually edible, even the glowing parts. I’ve heard that it might be mildly toxic, but that you’d have to eat a truckload to get sick. Dortmund, on the other hand, says that it’s not only non-toxic, it’s actually nutritious. He claims to eat nothing but. And he looks pretty healthy. He says that this stuff was the original and only food of humankind, before we were corrupted by the plow.

But I’m not sure I can trust Dortmund. He seems a little unstable — he’s homeless — but he can grow fungus like nobody’s business. He helped me with my first batch, showed me how to rig up the swabs and how to fix the poles on our decaying rooftop. You have to stay up with the poles all night and sway them back and forth through the night air. Dortmund spent the whole night with me on the roof, laughing at odd intervals and telling me jokes in German, and I swear you could actually see the spores accumulating on the swab. (Not really, but it seemed that way.) Those were the spores that gave me that first spectacular batch, and I’ve often wondered if Dortmund’s influence had something to do with it. He continues to drift on from rooftop to rooftop, and fantastic growth seems to follow him wherever he goes.

Meanwhile I bumble on. I’ve spent many a sleepless night up on the roof, swaying the poles; I’ve spent a fortune on growth medium; and no results. I’m beginning to suspect that I’ve been played the fool.

Fungus

There’s a variety of fungus that people cultivate down here in little rooftop gardens. I’ve really never seen anything quite like it. They only grow at night, and very quickly too, so that they complete their entire life cycle in just a few hours.

There’s a whole subculture surrounding these things, which is how I first found out about them. People have rooftop parties where they get together, watch the fungus “bloom” and then carve it up and eat it. They’re not hallucinogenic (I know, some people are probably wondering “then what’s the point?”) or if they are it’s very subtle. The main focus is more on the social aspect of just getting together and having a good time.

In fact, most people aren’t really interested in the fungi at all, which is a shame, because they are fascinating organisms. They grow to be almost three feet tall (in as many hours!) and they’re mostly dark orangish-red, dappled with darker-colored spots and lighter-colored knobs. But there’s an incredible variation from one specimen to the next. Occasionally I’ve seen ones that glow faintly in the dark. They’re not shaped like mushrooms at all; they’re more like giant-size asparagus.

It took me a while to wheedle out information from the people who actually grow them. They’re an odd lot. It’s not that they’re secretive, exactly, but they seem to have a hard time expressing themselves. Or maybe I’m just dense. But they get into a quasi-mystical fervor whenever they talk about growing these things.

Eventually I gathered that key to the whole process is collecting the spores. The most common method is to use big swabs of damp cloth. These are mounted on long poles on the roof and left up all night. In the morning they’re taken down and the spores are extracted, if there are any. The whole process is kind of hit and miss.

I thought this was very strange.

Once the spores have been acquired, they have to be planted almost immediately or they’re no good. Only they’re not really planted like a seed would be; they’re placed in a “growth medium.” I’ve never really understood what this medium is, and I think different people might use different semi-secret formulations of their own. When I ask about it all I get is technical mumbo-jumbo about “polysaccharides” and “red algae” and (I’m not making this up) “sulfated galactose monomers.”

Whatever it is, the shit’s expensive. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit how much I’ve spent over the last few weeks. The guy I’m buying it from is one of the more successful growers, and he says he’s giving me a discount.

What’s really frustrating is the lack of results. I did have an initial batch of spores that grew up nicely, just when I was getting started; I called up everyone I knew, and a bunch of people came out, and we had a nice little party. Xy & I were both pretty psyched. But since then, I’ve had almost no luck at all — just a few stunted things that look more like ordinary toadstools than anything else.

I’m getting tired of putting up the damn swabs every night, but I keep thinking of that first crop that was so beautiful. I just wonder if I could swing a better deal on the growth medium…

Mardi Gras

I wanted to let everybody know I survived my first Mardi Gras.

Carnival season begins here in New Orleans on the 6th day of January, also known as Twelfth Night because it’s the 12th night after Christmas. I believe it commemorates the visitation of the Magi.

I knew Carnival had begun when one of my co-workers brought a king cake to work. This is a large pastry decorated in Carnival colors — purple, gold and green. Hidden inside one slice of the cake is a small plastic baby. Whoever gets the slice with the baby has to buy the next cake.

What is Carnival anyway? It’s the season before Lent, that 40-day period of privation and fasting that begins on Ash Wednesday. Hundreds of years ago, people began celebrating the day before Ash Wednesday as a sort of last fling before Lent. This day became known as Mardi Gras, which literally means “Fat Tuesday.” I guess this single day of celebration eventually expanded to a whole season, known as Carnival.

Originally Carnival meant “farewell to the flesh.” It’s still celebrated in most Catholic countries, and New Orleans is definitely Catholic country.

The festivities really picked up about two weeks ago when the parades began. I’ve seen at least ten parades in that time — maybe more — I’ve lost count. These parades are kind of like the familiar Fourth of July parades we all know and love, except that they’re totally different. In fact I’m kind of at a loss for words.

Each parade is sponsored by a different social club (they’re called krewes) and travels a different route through the city. The Krewe of Bacchus brought their parade down our street, right in front of our apartment. The parades feature marching bands and elaborate floats. The riders in the floats (krewe members only) throw beads and other goodies to the crowd. XY caught a doubloon from the Bacchus Grand Marshall, Luke Perry! We also saw Britney Spears and Whoopi Goldberg.

Of course you don’t have to be Catholic to celebrate Carnival. Lots of people come from all over to celebrate. This year, there were estimated to be over 2 million visitors. The mayor announced yesterday that 1,230 TONS of trash had been collected!

I’ve never seen such madness. The city really does shut down and everybody joins the celebration. It’s so incredibly massive, and so much bigger than anything I’ve ever seen, that it was hard to remember that in most of the rest of the country, these were not special days at all.

Unfortunately I came down with a mild cold on Lundi Gras (that’s the day before Mardi Gras) so that put a bit of a damper on things. But since all the parades come within four blocks of our apartment, I was still able to get out easily and see the sights.

Mardi Gras has a somewhat tawdry reputation, which you may or may not be aware of. Lots of college students come here to drink heavily and take off their clothes. But that kind of behavior is largely confined to the French Quarter. For most of the people living here, it’s a family holiday. Kids love parades, after all.

I could go on and on, but duty calls. I’ve got flyers to design, CD-ROMs to burn, websites to update, and design documents to write! It’s back to business as usual.

A Particular Day in My Life

Here’s an account of a single day, August 2nd, 1999. This was originally published in my friend Rachel’s zine Daybook.

I get up around 7:00 or 7:30. I shower and shave. For breakfast I eat a bowl of granola with rice milk. I grab a carrot and an apple, and leave the apartment around 8:00.

As I’m driving to work a sheriff’s car pulls up alongside me and uses his loudspeaker: “The maximum speed is 35 miles per hour — you better slow down.”

When I get to the office I make coffee, talk with the cleaning lady, check my e-mail. I spend some time futzing around with Macromedia’s Shockwave installer, which seems a little buggy.

I finish up some work from the day before and upload it. It’s a new version of a website called MathNerds.

The university’s Webmaster calls me up, and while he’s got me on the phone we manage to resolve a problem with our CGI access that has been plaguing us ever since I arrived here on June 1st. Short of the long: It’s good news. I’m able to complete a couple of tasks that have been on the back burner for two months.

Our secretary has been working on our newsletter for the past week. I help her save it in an older format so the folks at the Document Centre will be able to read it.

A professor of Spanish stops by my office. She’s in desperate need of a programmer to help her finish a CD-ROM project, and quickly. The CD is called Hispanics in New Orleans. I explain that it’s too much for me to do. She offers to hire me after hours. The money is too good to refuse, so I agree.

For lunch I eat my carrot and apple.

After lunch I put the newsletter on a floppy and take it to the Document Centre. It’s about five blocks away. The August heat is incredible. A few drops of rain hit me, and I swear at myself for not bringing an umbrella. When I get to the Document Centre, I realize I’ve forgotten the damn floppy, so I go back to the office feeling like a dumbass.

I’m so exhausted by the heat that I can’t bring myself to go back out again. I revise an on-line form on our website, then I start work on an HTML tutorial.

I feel like leaving early, so I do.

On the way home I revisit the Document Centre. (Yes, they really do spell their name in the British style. I don’t know why. They’re the spawn of some unholy corporate-academic alliance with Xerox Corporation.) This time I remember the floppy.

When I get home, around 3:30 or 4:00, Xy is just finishing her job application. She’s a teacher; she’s looking for work in the public schools.

I change into my swimming trunks and go up to the pool on the roof of our building. I drink a beer and lie in the sun and write this account of my day. Meanwhile Xy is making guacamole down in our apartment. I swim a few laps in the pool and start thinking about the best way to tackle the Hispanics project.

Later that evening we get together with our friends, Marlon and Delme. (I’m not sure if I’m spelling her name right.) They’re the only real friends we’ve made since moving to New Orleans. They’re from Honduras. Delme doesn’t speak much English, and I speak even less Spanish, but Xy and especially Marlon are fairly bilingual. Our conversation tends to revolve around language itself, as we teach each other in little bits and pieces. Xy wants to go see a Latin salsa band at the Red Room, but when we arrive, the club is closed. We end up at Tipitina’s instead, where there’s a fifty-cent special on beer. The Original New Birth Brass Band is playing. It’s a kind of funky Dixieland jazz I never heard back in Indiana.

When it’s later than it should be, and we’re drunker than we should be, I drive us all home. While Xy and I try to sleep, our two cats chase each other around the apartment all night long.

Moving to New Orleans

I thought moving would be stressful, but it was smooth. So smooth I can hardly believe it. But right now I can look up and see the skyscrapers out my window, just a few blocks away. If I stand I can see the intersection of Notre Dame and Tchoupitoulas. So I know it’s true: I’m in New Orleans. But getting here was too damn easy.

Actually there were a couple problems. Five days before we were scheduled to depart, the engine of our ’92 Chevy Cavalier overheated, and the cylinder head cracked, and green stuff oozed out. (Xy called it “engine pus.”) Then my trick knee started to act up for the first time in 15 years. This made it difficult to get around.

Bloomington has been my home for 13 years, and Xy’s lived there all her life. It doesn’t seem possible that a person could just pack all their stuff into a goofy, yellow box (a Ryder rental truck, plastered with URLs and 800 numbers) and leave so easily.

But that’s exactly what we did. With a little help, of course. My in-laws and Lynn Winebarger spent a day packing up the truck with us. Thanks again, guys.

It’s over 800 miles from Bloomington to New Orleans, almost straight south. The drive is easy and even pleasant. But there are no bathrooms at the reststops in Mississippi.

Trivia: Look on a map of the world and you’ll see that Bloomington is at about the same latitude as Madrid. New Orleans is at the latitude of Cairo.

When we got down here, we were on our own. Just me with my trick knee and the little woman. (That’s not just an expression; Xy is tiny.) How could the two of us possibly move all of our stuff out of our truck and into our new apartment? But we did. We used a dolly. It was essential.

There’s a fancy furniture designer who has a gallery and woodworking shop right next to our apartment. A guy who works there, Jorge, took frequent smoke breaks on the back stoop and watched us move in all day. He seemed friendly, and a couple of times I thought he was about to offer his help with some of the heavier items. Finally toward the end of the day, he asked if he could have a word with us. He took us into the studio and showed us a beautiful tall mirror with a painting set in a panel above it. “I’m a painter,” he said. “This is the sort of stuff I do.” It almost looked like a renaissance painting, but the people in it were wearing modern clothes. Jorge asked if we would be interested in buying a painting or in modeling in a painting, or both. But he warned us that some of the modelling might need to be nude.

That night we walked two blocks and ate at The Red Eye Grill, right next door to the Howlin’ Wolf, where Jonathan Richman had played just a week before much to our chagrin. (Ween is playing there next week.) It was good smokey bar grub. But what freaked me out the most was, on our way back, on the street, I saw Grossman.

I grabbed Xy’s arm. “Look! Look at that guy!” But it was too late, he was already around the corner, and when we rounded it, he was already in his car, driving away.

Grossman!

Does he live here now, or what? I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t even Grossman. Maybe it was just a guy who looked like Grossman.

That night, as I lay in bed, exhausted, I thought about Grossman.


“Kirkegaard was the first to introduce the idea of dread as the characteristic mental state of humans,” Grossman said, pacing before us with a piece of chalk in his hand. “It is a beautiful day outside, and we are young and beautiful and intelligent, and we should not sit here with dour expressions.

“But nothing is grimmer than Scandinavian Protestantism. It may have something to do with the climate or the soil. The sun never shines, everyone is drunk. Sweden is one big block of granite with nothing but pine trees, everything is gray…”

I could barely suppress a giggle. This guy was hilarious! But all the students around me were silent and as somber as young Kierkegaard himself. So I stifled my laughter.

“Soren’s father was always making him feel guilty, just for existing. Which highlights a very important point. If you take nothing else from this class, remember this: Parents are the bane of a child’s existence. Your parents are the most cruel people in the world. A child’s rebellion is a matter of absolute necessity. At some point, you must stand up and tell your parents in no uncertain terms: UP YOURS.”

To tell the truth, I wasn’t even in this class. I was in the Philosophy of Christianity class that met in the same room an hour later. I’d discovered Grossman one day when I’d come to class early. Now I was hooked.

“Little Soren Kirkegaard became an utter neurotic. As neurotic as a bedbug. Full of anxiety. He became a great expert on anxiety. The idea of Original Sin goes down into little Soren’s mind like honey down a bear’s throat.

“And how was Kirkegaard’s sex life, you ask?

“It was non-existent. He broke off a five-year engagement and wrote a book about it: Diary of a Seducer. Can you imagine how many people must have checked this out of the library and taken it home with feverish hands, drinking a little Jamaican Cooler and lying back in bed, thinking that they are going to enjoy one of the greatest erotic novels of all time?”

I suppressed a chortle; how could my fellow students remain so straight-faced?

“According to Kirkegaard, anxiety was the essential characteristic of human beings. He developed a theory of anxiety. Anxiety is not the same as fear, he said. Animals experience fear, but anxiety is essentially human. And the object of anxiety is: nothingness.

“Frat boys take note: More women have been seduced by students of philosophy talking about anxiety and nothingness than by being fed Miller Lite.”


On our second or third Friday night in New Orleans, we went shopping at Riverwalk, the tourist-mall, which is only three blocks from our apartment. We stopped at the food court, and I decided to get a daquiri. Having grown up in a mall in the Midwest, the concept of purchasing and drinking alcohol at the mall seemed novel to me.

I ordered a 190 Octane. Hmm, I wonder why they call it that.

It was $4 or $5, which I thought was pretty expensive. But it was huge, almost a liter. And then I took a sip. Wow! I could taste the Everclear.

The mall seemed a lot less obnoxious, and spending money seemed a lot easier, with a buzz on. Maybe the chamber of commerce in my hometown should look into this idea.

Eventually we made our way out of the mall and into the French Quarter, which is right next door. I’d drained my cup by this time, and Xy was thirsty too, so we stopped for a drink on Bourbon Street. We didn’t go into a bar, we just stepped up to one of those little closets dedicated to alcohol. They offered daquiris in small, medium and large sizes. Xy ordered a medium, but when I ordered a large she got jealous and changed up to a large herself. What flavor? We chose One Mighty Punch.

$7 for a drink? What a rip-off, I thought. But when I saw the drink I was amazed. It was 10 gallons at least, maybe 20. And pretty much pure alcohol.

My memory of the evening deteriorates from that point on. I remember my head spinning at one point, as I thought to myself that I was very drunk indeed; then I looked at my cup and saw that I had consumed only about two fingers’ worth. Some insane part of my brain told me I had to drink it all.

Xy and I ended up hanging out on the riverfront with a street musician from South Africa. He was an older gentleman, black, with a long white beard, and I had the impression that he was homeless, but he never actually said so. He let Xy play his cornet. His name was Alexander, but he said that everybody called him Pops.

Xy, being much smaller than me, was also much more drunk, even though she’d had less. She invited Alexander home to spend the night with us. So he spent the night on our futon, and Xy washed his clothes for him. In the morning Xy was as sick as a dog.

Two days later Pops called us from jail. Xy took the call and was rather confused by the story he related. He said he was picked up on a charge called “illegal garments” and that the authorities were making homeless people disappear, perhaps because of the upcoming Mayor’s Convention. But he didn’t ask us to bail him out or do anything for him. He said he’d call back, but he never did.


We’ve been here for almost two months now. We’ve gotten our library cards. We’ve made some friends. We bought an old beater of a car for $700. And we’ve adopted: a little black one and a little blond one.

No, not kids, kittens.

I’m enjoying my job as multimedia specialist at the University. Xy’s going crazy because she hasn’t spent this much time at leisure since she started working at age 15. But she is in the process of getting her certification to teach in Louisiana. She’s just waiting for the paperwork to come back through the mail.

We’re living in the Warehouse District, in a renovated warehouse called Julia Place. Our part of the complex is 120 years old. It’s very spacious and probably more expensive than what we can afford. But we like it. I found it on the Web, just like I found my job.

Our closest friends here are Marlon and Delme. Marlon works at Julia Place as a carpenter. Delme, his girlfriend, is a maid, and she speaks very little English. They’re from Honduras. I can’t even begin to tell you how friendly and helpful they have been to us.

I guess I should draw this to a close. It’s taken much longer to write this than I thought it would, and I’ve still only scratched the surface. Oh well. Thanks for reading these ramblings.