We Still Miss You, Helen

Today it’s been a year since Helen was killed, and like Cristin, I don’t know quite what to say.

The superintendent of police was on TV last night saying that they had a suspect, but he couldn’t reveal anything more about the case. To be honest, my first thought was: He’s lying. It’s been a year, and I despair of ever knowing who killed Helen, much less that the responsible party would ever be brought to trial.

If you’re in the New Orleans area, you might want to tune in to WYES tonight to catch a new film about Helen’s life and art. I guess this will also be airing on other PBS affiliates in time, so check your local listings.

We will never forget you, Helen.

A Birthday Party

A friend of mine celebrated her first birthday today. (Yes, I’m also friends with her mother, but after watching the girl bury her face in cake I feel a special bond.) What was really amazing to me was how many people showed up for the event with kids the same age in tow. There must have been six or seven infants and toddlers there, and three pregnant women as well. That was heartening, because I realize that if we are to be new parents in post-Katrina New Orleans we’re going to need all the help and support we can get. Just knowing we are not alone is helpful.


I’ve gotten the staining done. It took four days of solid work, plus a half-day of touch up this morning, not to mention a day of dicking around prep work, but it’s done.

Next step: varnish. I hope the varnishing doesn’t take as long. I’ll get started on that tomorrow. I’ve got three days before I have to go back to work.

As for the rest of today, it’s Thanksgiving. This time of year always make me think about home. Besides the obvious holiday reasons, it was around this time when Xy and I came back to New Orleans two years ago. We weren’t back in our house yet, but we were here in the city, staying on David’s couch. We shared a Thanksgiving meal with Mike the Electrician who would shortly thereafter wire us up and continues to work on our renovation to this day.

Here it is two years later and we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in our own home. So you see, we are making progress after all. We’ve got friends coming over, and I’m smoking a mess of turkey legs,and Xy’s trying to make key lime creme bruleé.


Jeff and Laura came over to watch the Saints game today. Like us, they’re Hoosierleanians — transplants from Indiana who’ve come to call New Orleans home. Only Jeff is also a radiologist, and he’s doing his residency right now, which means that he and Laura are living in Michigan for a whole year. They’re taking their vacation in New Orleans for a week or so, and Jeff did a couple job interviews, because they both really want to come back. They share a passionate love for this place.

I mentioned what Frank said yesterday, and Jeff echoed it. We are part of the reason they want to come back. And again I felt that sense of heaviness. I reminded Jeff that we still haven’t decided to commit or blow.

We need to do that soon. We decided to give it a year, and that year is almost up.

We watched the Saints lose while Warren Easton’s band practiced marching in the streets around our home.

Later, after the game was over and Jeff and Laura left, the neighbors across the street fired up the barbecue and started grilling all manner of burgers, chicken and pork chops. Dooley set me up with a plate of spicy chicken and pasta and some delicious potato salad. They were carrying on noisily until well after dark, but now the street is quiet.


At lunch today Frank said that I was part of the reason he and his wife decided to stay in New Orleans. Whoa, I thought. That’s heavy. But how could it be? By deliberate choice, I’ve never encouraged anyone to stay here. He said it was not because of any one specific thing, just the choices I’ve made, the way that I’ve lived. I reminded Frank that we’re only staying here for now. He said no matter what we decided he was grateful. I was speechless.

Panel #3 (reflections)

Before the panel, Chris and Sandy and Alan and Ted and I were sitting together, having breakfast and chatting.

Chris asked each of us for a tidbit of personal info he could use in the introductions. I told him I put the first TV series on the internet. Alan considered for a moment and finally said, “just try not to use the word blog while introducing me,” because once you’re labeled a “blogger” it brings up certain associations and stereotypes that can be hard to overcome. A consummately reasonable request.

Shortly thereafter, the panel got underway, and Chris introduced us down the line. Sandy showed the new video from levees.org, which you should definitely watch. When Chris made his introduction of Alan he said, “OK, and now I’m supposed to introduce Alan Gutierrez without using the word ‘blog.’ Except, oops, I just did.” He proceeded to use the the word “blog” once more during his introduction, and then he let Alan say a bit about himself. When Alan made a passing reference to blogs, Chris interrupted to say, “You just said the word ‘blog.'”

I was up next, and when I said the b-word Chris interrupted me to say, “You just said the word ‘blog.'” Then he said it was OK for me to use the word, and I did so with reckless abandon.

If I was Alan, I guess I would have felt pretty annoyed. Still, I couldn’t help being amused, against my better judgment.

There’s a more comprehensive write-up of the panel at Alan Levine’s Cog Dog Blog.

Other highlights included Nick Spitzer‘s opening address which made the connection between creativity and creolization; a presentation on webcomics by Ruben Puentadora; Alan Levine’s 50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story; Joe Lambert‘s presentation on storymapping; and Michael Mizell-Nelson’s closer on the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank.

But mainly I’m glad to have finally connected with the New Media Consortium. My old boss urged me to check them out some time before Katrina, but after the storm I was preoccupied. My typical complaint of conferences and organizations is that they tend to be either too academic or too commercial to be relevant to what I do. But the NMC seems to be more or less in the zone.

Oh, and I also met Chris Wood, the distinguished author of Prytania Waterline.

Fire & Water

While New Orleans was getting soaked yesterday, San Diego was encircled by wildfires. Today comes the news that 300,000 people are being asked to evacuate in San Diego county alone. Dangerblond says that’s more than Katrina. I’m worried about my friend Mary, who sent this e-mail yesterday evening:

San Diego is surrounded by fires in a big semicircle. 911 reverse called us and told us there is a voluntary evacuation of my area. (I’m near the ocean but the smoke gets people too). I went to the store to buy water, but there wasn’t any. I’m trying to decide what to do and where to evacuate to. I’d have to drive north of LA to get out of the ring of fire, and with the traffic, I may make it by the time [my baby daughter] is old enough to drive…

If I go south, I’ll still be trapped, but the fires are further east, at least.

I haven’t heard from Mary since then. I hope she and her daughter are OK.

As Michael notes, the people of the Gulf Coast have sympathy for the people of California. It sucks to have your home destroyed by forces beyond your control. The devastating storm surges of 2005 may seem very different from the wildfires, but they too may be exacerbated by global warming.

Early Voting

A friend of mine voted early and sends the following report.

Since you gave me some advice, I’ll tell you how I voted. Just a little FYI. When it’s relevant, I’ll tell you why I made the choice I did. Generally, I don’t vote for Republicans. Also, when I’m trying to make a decision on the more obscure races, I go to each candidate’s web site. I’m looking for education, experience and positions. If they don’t have a web site, it means they’re not mounting a serious campaign, and I disregard them. I made two exceptions to the no-web-site rule though, Marcelle and Alfone.

  • Governor–Campbell. I like him because he wants to make taxation of the oil and gas industry the cornerstone of the state’s revenue, and I like that. Admittedly, I don’t know a damn thing he stands for otherwise.
  • Lt. Gov.–Landrieu. I think he’s done a good job with film and tourism in the state, which is his main job.
  • Sec. State–Wooley
  • Att.Gen–Caldwell. The only non-Republican alternative to Foti. I’d actually vote for a Republican to oust Foti, after his attempted prosecution of the hospital staff. If I had to do that, I’d run home, take a “Silkwood” shower, and cry myself to sleep.
  • Com. of Ag.–Odom
  • Com. of Ins.–Crowley
  • BESE Dist 2–Marcelle. I found out the incumbent has been sued by the government for corrupt election practices.
  • Sen. 5th Dis.–Gray. A local girl with a BA from Standford and a JD from Tulane, so she’s smart.
  • Rep. 91st Dis.–Alfone. “Toke up, bro. . .” Sure, I’d give him a try.
  • Judge, Crim, Sec A–Wainwright. Though I hate Nader, I am completely sympathetic to most of the Green party’s concerns. And certainly, on the local level, I’d welcome a successful alternative party. Actually, I’d welcome a successful alternative party on the national level, too, but you’ve got to crawl before you can walk. Hence, my vote.
  • Council at Large–Suber. If MosDef says he’s the man, HE’S THE MAN! I liked his positions on his site.
  • Judge, Mun–Davillier
  • For all the amendments.

I only shared this, because I remember your telling me my choices in the last election had influenced you. (And look at how much good it did.)

Interestingly, my friend ended up voting for all three of the candidates endorsed by the Green Party of Louisiana: Suber, Wainwright and Alfone. Wainwright’s the only registered Green, so he’s the only one who will actually have the word “Green” by his name on the ballot. You can meet all three of these candidates tomorrow night.

Reminder: The election’s on Saturday, October 20th. You can vote early at the registrar of voters office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Oct. 13.


Just scouring back through old files, I found this e-mail sent from a friend in Florida on the Saturday evening before Katrina. To read it now sends a chill down my spine, and takes me back to that night two years ago.

From: leviolberton
Subject: Yo Hurricane Host
Date: August 27, 2005 10:21:01 PM CDT
To: editor_b

Dang, bubba, it’s bearin’ right down on ya.

Of course, there’s infinite possibilities between now and then, but the models are all pretty much in agreement on this one.

A lot of locals are pretty smug about it. I think it comes from all the attention we’ve had over the past couple of years from the Hurricane Gods, but seems to me that Nola stands to lose a lot at one time if a Cat 4 comes rollin’ in.

I’m not quite sure why, but Nola has had a certain “’bout time” feeling for me and a lot of others. I’ve seen a few documentaries about how humans have spent a lot of time/effort/money keeping Nola bove water…or is it slightly below water. Tons of effort went into keeping the river where humans wanted it so that Nola could be what it is.

And I like the town. I’m comin’ there for vacation. So, it’s not like I’m hoping for disaster.

My buddy John grew up in Mobile and has suffered a few outragous storms. His attitude is that if a Cat 4 comes into Nola, it’ll help wash the urine smell outta town. He’s not the least bit sympathetic.

In a way, I think it’s good and humbling that we’re seeing hurricanes at their normal pace. There’s a reason why the Native Americans didn’t populate the beaches of the Gulf…so I’m told. So many of us humans have poured a ton of money into Florida’s gulf coast to make a quick buck. A few more of these storms and it’ll pop this market in a hurry. What’s satisfying about it is that the folk investing, and pricing the locals out of their own housing market, aren’t from ’round here and they’re the ones who will lose big if the bubble pops.

I just glad I don’t have to nail plywood this time. It’s a drill now. There’s no thrill. You see the strom rollin’ in, you know what amount of your personal time will go into preparing for it, and you just get tired and pissed off.

Good luck tomorrow as you try and decide when to leave and what to take and how to nail down yer house. Three hours away from the storm seems the norm. Pack the car with whatever you really care about, watch the NOAA site and plan a route that doesn’t take you into the storm’s path. I know that sounds simple, but it’s amazing how may folk will retreat right into the storm’s path. I don’t mean to sound condescending. It took me a few storms to learn this. And, I still wait until my buddy John makes the decision to bug out before I make a move. I always defer to the experts.

If, for whatever reason, you end up going up I-65 towards Montgomery, take US 231 South to Troy Alabama and you’ll find motels with rooms. It’s about a half hour or so from Montgomery. When we bugged outta PCB last storm, we were amazed that Montogermy was sold out, yet the parking lots in the Troy motels were pretty much sparse.

Good luck. It sucks.

Of course, my friend didn’t know that Katrina would jog east at the last moment and miss New Orleans. He didn’t know that the floodwalls on our drainage canals would fail because of faulty design and flood the city. Hell, I think most of America still doesn’t know that’s what happened.

Xmas: Meaning and Origins

MAD’s posted a great rant about the True Meaning of Christmas. I’ve long subscribed to the notion that the particular date for the celebration of Christmas was chosen because of pre-existing solstice festivals, but Wikipedia suggests a number of other theories. (Thanks to Anne for recommending the article. I turned her on to Wikipedia in the first place; apparently she printed out this particular article and posted it at the prison where she works.)


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.

Punk Rawk

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.