Last night I dreamed my family had a reunion. We were having a special conference about our family religion. The session was being led by “Tall” Steve Volan. Steve is not related to me in real life, but in the dream he was some sort of distant cousin. He stood at the front of the room and lectured us about our religion, which was a strange mix of Rosicrucianism and Zoroastrianism, with a healthy dollop of English literary tradition. In fact, Steve seemed to be infused with the spirit of a tweedy English professor — J. R. R. Tolkien, perhaps? (This is all the more odd because my family is actually German, and Steve is Greek.) After about ten minutes I interrupted. I stood up and said that I, for one, had learned more about our religion in the last ten minutes than I had on my own in the last ten years. Everyone applauded. I struggled to add that I still didn’t believe any of it, but no one heard me.
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.
So it looks like gasoline is shaping up to be a big campaign issue.
Bush has attacked Kerry for supporting a 50-cent gas tax years ago, even though he never actually voted for it. The Bush campaign is scaremongering, plain and simple.
Kerry, far from supporting a gas tax, has been attacking Bush for the current high price of gasoline. He promises us more foreign oil at cheaper prices. How disappointing.
Both candidates are pursuing strategies they know will get a positive response. Americans love to drive, and we especially love to drive big SUVs that burn gasoline like there’s no tomorrow. Few things seem to disturb us more than high prices at the gas pump.
It would be nice if our leaders actually showed some leadership and talked about how we could really stick it to OPEC: by simply reducing our consumption.
Of course, Americans wouldn’t like that. We don’t want to deal with reality, we just want to watch reality television.
There’s been a coating of green dust over New Orleans for the last few weeks. It’s the annual falling of the oak pollen, and it’s quite impressive, kind of like green snow. Unfortunately, it also triggers allergies in many people, including Xy, and those allergies lead to sinus problems, and the sinus problems lead to headaches, which in turn lead to grumpiness, which makes me unhappy by extension.
My own allergies haven’t bothered me until yesterday morning. I had a sneezing fit in the supermarket parking lot, and since then I’ve been more or less miserable. I continue to be amazed by the sheer volume of snot that I keep blowing out my nose. Where does it all come from? Is my body converting brain tissue into snot? That would explain my general sense of disorientation. I have a hard time concentrating or thinking clearly when my brain is melting.
Am I allergic to the oak pollen, or to something else that just started casting off pollen yesterday?
The nasty post-nasal drip has led to a sore throat. The whole experience is basically like having a mild cold. I tell myself that I’m not really sick — “It’s just allergies” — but what’s the difference, really?
It’s actually an interesting biological phenomenon, especially if you think about it from an evolutionary perspective. There’s no obvious survival value to the allergic reaction; in fact, one would suppose that animals with no allergies whatsoever would have an advantage. One theory is that the body is mistaking the allergen for a virus and overcompensating. There may have been a particularly deadly bug in circulation in the distant past that selected for a hypersensitive immune response. Or something. In any case, it’s clear evolution does not select for creature comfort.
Post-nasal script: Maybe I’m allergic to Daylight Saving Time, which started yesterday morning. After growing up in that part of Indiana that never changes time, DST is still a novelty to me. It’s actually kind of fun going around the house and setting all the clocks forward an hour. It’s also strange to see an hour of time just disappear like that.
So last night around 9 p.m. I mixed myself a drink and went downstairs, thinking that I would veg out watching some television. Xy was doing schoolwork and watching ER, not my favorite show, but then again there’s nothing better on, so I didn’t complain. I scooped a cat onto my lap, turned off my brain and settled down into a comfortable chair.
Just as the tube and the alcohol were producing the desired sedative effect, a lingerie commercial came on. It was the typical mildly titillating stuff you expect to see on such a commercial: supermodels in lacy undergarments slinking around Venice. Sounds like Dylan on the soundtrack, which is a little disturbing, but hardly a surprise in an era when Rage Against the Machine is used to sell cars.
And then I saw something which shook me from my stupor and threatened my very sanity. Stepping out of the shadows, there’s a man who looks very familiar. Why, he looks just like Bob Dylan. “Is that Bob Dylan?” Good God, it is Bob Bylan!
Has the world gone mad? What the fuck is Dylan doing in a Victoria’s Secret commercial?
Noting the date, I wondered briefly if this was an April Fool’s prank. But it’s not. It’s a strategic partnership that includes selling Dylan CDs at Victoria’s Secret.
Dylan fans will decry this as a sell-out, and I suppose it is. But that’s not what bothers me. He’s a counter-cultural icon, for Christ’s sake, a symbol of the anti-establishment 60s. Using him to sell sexy lingerie strikes me as a remarkably bad idea. Dylan is not sexy; he’s repulsive. Perhaps he was sexier 40 years ago. If the man has any sex appeal left, it’s an earnest, earthy, grungy kind of mojo. Victoria’s Secret, on the other hand, represents glamor and artifice and gloss and bulimia.
To see Bob Dylan shilling for Victoria’s Secret — well, it’s just plain wrong, and it almost snapped me back into sobriety. Thank God commercials are short.
I’m suffering from radio withdrawal because it’s pledge week on both the local NPR affiliate (WWNO). Normally I would just switch over to Tulane University’s radio station (WTUL) for the week, but guess what? They’re in the middle of their annual “Rock On Survival Marathon.” In other words, it’s pledge week there too. Damn!
I give money to both stations. And I really don’t mind pledge week. It’s a necessary evil. Actually it’s a blessing in disguise, because it makes me turn off the radio, which I listen to compulsively. I mean, it’s great to stay informed and all, but I probably listen to news programs on NPR from three to four hours a day. I think all that information may hazardous to my mental health.
I’m fascinated by cycles, including the cycle of seasons. Back when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana I watched each spring for the emergence of new leaves, yet I always seemed to miss it. I would notice the buds when they appeared on the bare branches, and I kept my eye on them, and then — suddenly — there would be full-blown leaves on all the trees, turning the city from gray to green overnight. Damn!
Now that I live in New Orleans, this transition isn’t nearly so dramatic. Many trees, such as live oaks, keep their leaves through the winter, a season which is so mild here that it hardly deserves the name. Indeed, the four seasons here seem to be: carnival season, festival season, hurricane season and Christmas. But I digress.
Last year we planted a sweetgum tree in front of our home. Sweetgums lose their leaves in the winter. Over the last week or two I’ve been watching the green buds emerge on the branches, swelling bigger and bigger. Today I think I can finally say that I have seen young new leaves emerging.
Caught in the act at last.
Y’all know that dentists number human teeth for ease of reference, right? #32 is the last tooth, the one in your lower right, if you have it. Well, my #32 has never fully erupted, and it bothers me from time to time.
So yesterday I went in to the dentist to have #32 removed. I was a little nervous because I’ve never had an extraction.
He numbs me up and goes to town on the old #32, but it seems like the tooth doesn’t want to budge. So, he tells me, he’s going to cut it apart and remove it in a couple pieces.
He manages to get part of the top of the tooth out, but still can’t get the rest, so he takes another x-ray from a different angle. Upon examining it, he decides he’s out of his depth, and refers me to an oral surgeon. He packs a little gauze in my mouth to stanch the flow of blood, I hop on my bicycle and ride up Canal Street about 15 blocks.
The oral surgeon takes one of those big wraparound x-rays. He explains that #32 is partially impacted, but at such an angle that it has to be extracted by pulling not just up, but back, which as you can imagine is difficult, even for a specialist.
So he whips out a massive drill and proceeds to remove a substantial chunk of my jawbone.
And, finally, he gets #32 out. Well, most of it. One root is so close to the nerve that he leaves it there for fear of doing serious damage. The root that he does extract is hooked at 115º angle.
Afterward I’m sitting in the chair, and I look over, and there attached to the wall, with a long vacuum tube coming out of it, is a container of red liquid. My blood, it dawns on me. 300cc. That’s more than a cup, in case you didn’t know.
Then he stitched me up and sent me home.
So today I’m taking it easy and staying home from work. They got me on hydrocodone, which makes me feel groovy except that it also makes me barf. But at least I was here to receive my stylish new refrigerator from Sears.
So once again I take pen in hand, motivated by the vague notion that my life is slipping away, unexamined, unrecorded. Does writing, or the contemplation that writing engenders, somehow slow the passage of time?
I am sitting on the deck in back of our house. It is a lazy Saturday afternoon. My back hurts for no apparent reason, and Xy is feeling perfectly miserable and is napping. Earlier I called the Tulane Family Health Center and made an appointment for her on Monday afternoon; I think she’s suffering from a combination of allergies, stress and exhaustion.
It’s a warm day, and getting warmer. I’m quite comfortable sitting in the shade, sipping iced tea, in my underwear and a tee-shirt. If I stay here as the sun moves across the sky, I’ll lose my shade in a few hours, and then I’ll be sweating, because the sun is hot. Nevertheless, I remarked this morning that it was relatively cool in the house, which is not air conditioned except for our bedroom and the TV room downstairs; it was the first such morning in months. Summer’s almost over.
I should add that by “relatively cool” I mean “not stiflingly hot.”
I must confess that the discomfort of the New Orleans climate was never truly manifest to me during the first three years we lived here. It’s only in the last year, as we have lived in a house without central heat, without central air, without adequate insulation and weatherproofing, that I have really felt just how hot and how cold it can be here.
But it is the dampness of the climate that makes it so uncomfortable, making the cold colder, the hot hotter. The humidity compresses the zone of comfortable temperatures down to a very narrow range, and it seems that there are only a couple months that are not aggravatingly hot or miserably cold.
Our quality of life would, no doubt, be greatly enhanced by the installation of central air, but it doesn’t look as if we will be able to afford that anytime soon.
Indeed, our finances worry me. For the past year, it seems that we have consistently spent more each month than we earned, steadily eroding what savings we had — which were not really savings at all, but just money left over from the homebuying transaction. Dad gave us a big lump sum as a gift, to help us buy the house, and it turned out that our down-payment wasn’t as large as we’d anticipated, so we had some extra. But that’s almost all gone now, and our account dipped below $1000 for the first time in August.
Funny. There was a time, not so long ago, when dipping below $100 would have been the cause for alarm, and $1,000 seemed like an astronomical figure.
As long as I’m complaining about the weather, money, and my health, I guess I might as well add that owning a house has turned out to be a big fucking pain in the ass! Whenever something breaks, I have to fix it myself, and given that our house is something like 85 to 100 years old, there’s always work to be done. The really stressful part is I have no idea how to do most of the work, and I have very little guidance. I feel ignorant, incompetent, and utterly ill-equipped for the tasks that home ownership entails.
Now, just to prove that I haven’t turned all the way into a cranky old man just yet, here are a few bright spots:
- After twenty-plus years of taking Dilantin every day to keep the seizures away, I started tapering off early this year, reducing my dosage from four pills to three to two to one, and now it’s been — how long? — maybe six months since I’ve taken any. And no seizures. That’s a good thing, because Dilantin had some side effects, like enlarged gums and shrinkage of the cerebellum (yikes!).
- A couple weeks ago, unable to sleep, I conducted a web search on my own name, and revisited my entry in the Internet Movie Database to discover I’d been given a story credit for a film called “Toss of the Coin,” directed by my old high school classmate, Pat Steele. I got in touch with him and he sent me a DVD of the film. It’s damn good, and based on a story I wrote in high school. The whole thing is kind of like waking up to find that a dream you’ve had has come true. Weird — but nice.
- Xy’s teaching at Haban’s, just across the river but still a part of the New Orleans Public Schools; she actually seems to have a competent and supportive principal for a change.
It seems impossible, but it’s taken an hour to write these few pages. Writing in a journal is a pleasant way to pass the time, a pleasure which I’m afraid I’ve forgotten, since it has been so long since I’ve kept a journal.
There are some matters concerning my inner life which I’d like to write about, but I suppose I can work my way around to those more difficult issues in due time. Right now, it seems it might be worthwhile to reflect on what’s happened since last I wrote — and since I’m not sure when that was, it’s kind of an open-ended question. Nevertheless:
- We bought a house, as I mentioned. As of October 1, 2002, we are homeowners in Mid-City, New Orleans.
- We went to Hawaii this June. I went for a conference (Ed-Media 2003) so the University paid my way, and I took Xy along. Unfortunately we didn’t get out of Honolulu much.
- ROX is back in production! We’ve cranked out three episodes in the past year, and I’m working on #90 (“Fat”) now. I’ve also put a lot of effort into a new rox.com website.
- PJ, an old acquaintance from Bloomington, got a job at the University and has been working there as a web developer for just over a year now.
- I visited Päivi and family in Finland in the summer of 2001, just before the terrorist attacks. I was there for the Ed-Media 2001 conference. Also stopped in London to visit Jaylene, and ran up to Edinburgh and took a three-day tour of the Scottish highlands.
- Uh… I guess I should mention that I got this job at the University and moved down here to New Orleans in May of 1999
I think I remember M. Leonard questioning my wisdom at drinking an Irish Car Bomb on an empty stomach. But my stomach wasn’t entirely empty. In addition to Irish Car Bomb, I’d had a double shot of tequila, a Guinness, and two shots of Jamison’s. Oh, yes, and a tin of kippered herring.
Then we stopped by Coop’s Place and I had a bottle of Turbodog and a smoked duck quesadilla.
The Subhumans show was awesome. It was also fun to watch PJ getting smashed to a pulp in the mosh pit. Being an all-ages show it was done early and I was in bed before midnite. I had a bowl of cereal before going to bed and I felt fine.
But I woke up around 4:30 this AM with a headache. I drank a lot of water but the headache wouldn’t go away and I could not get back to sleep. Unfortunately it was about 50º in our house, so getting up wasn’t a pleasant option. But I got up around 5:15, put on a bunch of layers, ate half a bowl of oatmeal, and drank a little tea.
Then I took a crap. But I still felt like crap. Around 6:00 I puked, which is the first time I can remember vomiting, for any reason, in, like, years. Then I felt better, more or less, and I slept in ’til around 10 AM. Now I’m at work, feeling good, but I feel like I have learned a valuable lesson:
Don’t drink an Irish Car Bomb on an empty stomach, especially if your stomach isn’t empty but is indeed full of other liquors, beer, and kippered herring.
The really amazing thing is that PJ matched me drink for drink, but he didn’t get sick (I don’t think).
Maybe the moshing helped.
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
I just had the most bizarre conversation with our temp secretary. She actually called me a “commie” becuz I posted some antiwar posters from protestposters.org.
She said I was un-American becuz I didn’t fully support our president. Under my line of return questioning, she refused to admit that any elected official has ever done anything wrong — in America.
Ultimately I decided she was just having fun with me, but she wouldn’t admit to that either. If she’s acting, she’s got her deadpan down cold.
Today, I am bleeding from both ends.
Every time I brush my teeth, there’s blood. (I have sensitive gums. It’s a side effect from my anticonvulsant medication.)
I don’t even want to describe the other part.
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.
Well, the damn deal fell thru. The house I said we were buying? We’re not.
Last week we had the place inspected, and we were suprised by the results. Structural problems, plumbing problems, old and improper wiring. It’s an old house, so you expect some of that, but this was a lot more than we expected, something like $20-45K to fix.
So we tried to renegotiate, asked the seller to come down in price. They said no, so now it’s our chance to back out of the deal, which we are doing.
We’re out a few hundred dollars for the inspection report. But the whole process has been aggravating. I’ve lost some sleep over it. In fact, I’m surprised at how much emotional investment I seem to have put into the place.
Oh well. Back to house-hunting mode, I guess.
I drafted a number of e-mails back in late September that I never sent. Most of them were intended for my extended family, as we discussed the events of September 11. I’m not sure why I never sent them. I guess I just despaired of getting my point across.
The Apostle Paul warns, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:17, 199).
Even now, our religious leaders are speaking a message of peace. They are saying that we must respond to terror with love, that we must not answer violence with more violence.
That’s an extremely hard message to hear right now. It’s hard because we’re angry. And we’re scared. And who can blame us for that?
I’m angry at the people who did this to us. I’m angry at my own government for funding the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and bin Laden. I’m angry at the TV networks who are trivializing the death of thousands of Americans with glossy and superficial coverage. I’m angry at the investors who are even now sending the stock market into a downward spiral.
I’m scared of more terrorist attacks. We tested our preparedness for an anthrax assault a few months ago in three major cities; the results indicated we are not prepared for that at all. One crop-duster with the right biological weapons could kill millions. I’m also scared of what our own military might do. The use of “tactical” nuclear weapons is being discussed. Yes, I’m scared.
But I’m not terrified. I’ll be damned if I let the terrorists accomplish that.
Xy went to mass yesterday morning at Visitation of Our Lady in Marrero, LA. The message at this conservative church was one of peace. “Love your enemy.” Xy said that the man in the pew before her was shaking his head and trembling with rage throughout the sermon.
We’re all angry. It so may be hard for us to listen to the wisdom of our religious counselors. But that’s exactly what we must do. How can I love the Taliban, whom I’ve hated for years? It’s hard — very, very hard. Hate is far easier.
It’s also hard to think of peace because we have been conditioned to accept violence. We can barely even imagine any other way to respond. And the events of September 11 demand a response. To do nothing is unthinkable, impossible. We must do something, and more than something. We must do a lot. But what? Can we imagine a response that does not include the slaughter of more innocents? It’s hard. But we must.
And there’s one more thing that makes it hard to think about peace.
Consider the terrorists themselves. We are told that they were religious zealots fighting a holy war. But in fact they were agents of evil. No religion preaches the killing of innocents. Islam certainly does not preach this. The terrorists cannot be considered true Muslims. We should see them for what they are: agents of evil, seriously deluded men masquerading as holy warriors. As a Baptist minister recently said, “Satan can speak in the language of God.”
We’re not immune to this. In our own country, we also have agents of evil. We have those who speak “in the language of God,” deluded men who promote violence and hate in the name of Christianity. They will cite scripture to support their views. For example, they may point to the first verses of Romans 13, while conveniently ignoring the rest of the chapter. But make no mistake. These men are not true Christians, any more than the terrorists were true Muslims. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”
From the Sermon on the Mount:
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?
So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
We should not be deceived by the “ravenous wolves” who clamor for retribution. If someone preaches vengeance, they are a “bad tree” bearing “bad fruit.” The Christian position on vengeance and retribution is clear, though right now we may not feel like listening to what Jesus said: “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39-41, NIV).
These are my thoughts on the brink of a war that now seems to be unstoppable.
It appears that I’m the only person in our family who favors a peaceful response. I want you all to know that, even if we have our differences, I still love you all. I hope that the family can still accept me. Does that sound silly? I guess that I’m afraid that I’ll be shunned or ostracized. I’m afraid that you will think I’m not a good American.
I am very much afraid about the direction we are headed right now. If America makes the wrong moves, some very bad things could happen. For example, there’s Pakistan. Gen. Musharraf is pro-Western, but he’s also a military dictator with a somewhat shaky hold on power. My friend in Pakistan tells me that there is much popular support there for the Taliban. It’s entirely possible that, if we don’t act just right, Musharraf could be displaced by a hardline, Taliban-style leader. That would be very bad — especially when you remember that Pakistan has nukes.