Six Month Warning

Flood Line

People of New Orleans!

In six months we’ll mark the ten year anniversary of the flooding of our city. Already the media machinery is gearing up for all kinds of coverage, and ordinary citizens elsewhere in the country and around the world will be provoked to remember us for a brief moment. They may wonder how we’re doing.

So get ready for that. It seems to me there are two ways to play this. You may wish to:

1) Avoid it as much as possible. Tune it out. Weather the media storm. There was a lot of trauma around that time, and you may prefer not to have those memories stirred. There’s been a ton of books and movies about the subject, and as a rule I’ve avoided them all — except for those I’ve produced myself.

2) Be prepared to talk about it. Have your soundbite ready. I imagine a lot of people will be asking for an assessment of where things stand here in New Orleans. Have we made a full and complete recovery? Be ready to answer that question. Be ready to volunteer your own perspective. I’m certainly not going to tell you what to say, but I hope your answer reflects some of the complications and nuances of reality.

These may seem like mutually exclusive strategies but they’re not, really. You can tune out the media blitz while still answering questions from friends, relatives, visitors, casual acquaintances, and even the odd reporter. In the age of social media, such interactions are easier than ever.

Any other ideas? Forewarned is forearmed.


I took these minutes on my 39th birthday, which was the day the University re-opened after the flooding of the city. What a strange day. We’d seen our city on the brink of annihilation, and the future was very uncertain. We came into our conference room, sat around the table, looked at each other and wondered, “What now?” That was five year ago today. I’ve edited this a bit to obscure individual identities and remove any information that might be considered sensitive.
Continue reading “Minutes”

Deaf Government Area

Deaf Government Area

This photo recently became my most “favorited” on Flickr. With 26 favorites it has surpassed Big Cloud, which is gratifying because I think this is a much more interesting shot.

I took this one on October 13, 2006 in Gentilly, on Mirabeau Avenue near the London Avenue Canal breach. In the background you can see vacant flooded homes becoming overgrown with vegetation. You can even see some waterlines on the sign itself.

Need I say more? I think the power of this photo is that it tells a story all on its own. You don’t really need any of my explanations.
Continue reading “Deaf Government Area”

A Few Photos of Habans Post-K

Yesterday the verdicts came down in the Henry Glover case. According to the morning paper:

Federal prosecutors won the first convictions in their sprawling probe of police misconduct in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as a jury Thursday found three New Orleans police officers guilty in a high-stakes case accusing them of killing Henry Glover, burning his body and fashioning an elaborate cover-up that kept the truth hidden for four years.

The jury of five men and seven women, however, acquitted two officers completely. The jury also cleared two defendants of charges that they beat two men who tried to help Glover after he was shot by former officer David Warren behind an Algiers strip mall.

I don’t have much to add to that. Certainly I don’t have any deep insights. I have to admit I have not been following the case as closely as I probably should have been. But I know this is a historic case and an important moment for the city, and I want to remember it.

There is one aspect of the case that stirs personal memories. Some of the action went down at Habans Elementary, the school where Xy was teaching right until Katrina hit.

I visited the school on October 12, 2005, a rough day for me, and I saw for myself that the building was still being used as a SWAT headquarters.

Later, I found myself visiting Habans again and again, hauling supplies to Xy’s new school, Eisenhower Elementary. What a bizarre time that was. Habans was still functioning as a police camp. Here are some photos I took there in December.

School Boats


Police Occupation

Old Chalk

The final big haul took place in January, 2006, and we got an assist from some of the cops.



That’s Capt. Jeff Winn in the tan cap. I’ve run into him a few times over the years. Some of the SWAT types hanging out at Habans frankly scared me, but Capt. Winn always struck me as a good guy. That’s a comment on his interpersonal skills; obviously I’m in no way qualified to comment on his conduct as an officer.

He testified in the Glover case but wasn’t charged with anything. According to an earlier report in the TP:

At the end of his closing argument, DeSalvo switched his attention to McRae’s commander during the storm, Capt. Jeff Winn, who led the NOPD’s Special Operations Division. Winn testified that he told McRae to move the car, but knew nothing about the fact that the officer had set fire to the vehicle.

Winn also testified that after the storm, he didn’t see the top chiefs of the Police Department, at one point saying he essentially ran the department in that first week, coordinating rescues and anti-looting patrols.

“Capt. Winn, here, is the true hero of the storm,” DeSalvo said. “Ask yourself what would have happened to this city but for Jeff Winn. Ask what would have happened to this city but for Greg McRae.”

Yesterday, McRae was convicted of burning Henry Glover’s body. Winn was never charged with anything.

I wonder what might have become of the Keenon McCann case? McCann filed a lawsuit against NOPD for shooting him on September 1, 2005. Specifically it was Winn and Dwayne Scheuermann who shot him.

Scheuermann was one of the cops indicted in the Glover case. He was charged with beating Glover’s brother, as well as destroying evidence and obstructing the investigation. He was found not guilty on all counts.

As for McCann, he was lured outside his home and murdered in August 2008, a case that remains unsolved.

I wonder if the feds are investigating that too.

Fever, Fire & Water

I see I have some catching up to do.

Last Tuesday night I started to feel like I was coming down with something, which was not surprising since Xy and Persephone have both been under the weather. When I woke up Wednesday I was feverish, but it was a big day for me, so I took some ibuprofen carried on. I conducted a session at work and then I rode down to the Presbytère for the “Katrina 5.0” symposium.

(I will pointedly refrain from grumbling about the fact that I showed up late for the panel. I was told 7:00PM and everyone else was told 5:30. Because I came “early” I didn’t miss much. Imagine my surprise when I was ushered into a room full of people, with the panel in full swing, and one empty seat — mine. It all worked out in the end, except that I was a little disoriented. The fever didn’t help. My only real regret was I missed my chance to read a post from this blog to the audience.)

By Thursday I was feeling worse, and as it turns out my doctor doesn’t “do” Thursdays. Xy’s doctor was on vacation, but I scrounged up an appointment with one of his partners. “Can you be here in 15 minutes?” Not quite — it’s a 25 minute bike ride. But I got a prescription for a Z-pack. I slept much of the afternoon.

Friday I took Persephone to the doctor, and she got on some amoxicillin. I kept her out of daycare. Soon our old friend Sue flew into town. The three of us went out for lunch, then walked through the rain to the University for a quick (and wet) tour of campus.

That evening Xy visited a walk-in clinic. (She has a one-month gap in health insurance coverage which is wreaking havoc on us in many ways. What a system.) So now she’s on amoxicillin as well. The whole family is on antibiotics.

Next day was Rising Tide 5. This is the why Sue was visiting. The conference was excellent, as always. I’ve posted a couple dozen photos.

By Sunday I was feeling almost 100%. Before taking Sue to the airport, we decided to do a brief disaster tour. We stopped by the New Orleans Katrina Memorial, which is in our neighborhood, and bumped into some guy named Mitch Landrieu. (Sunday was the fifth anniversary of Katrina’s landfall.) We drove through Lakeview and tried to visit the lake, but what with the road construction I couldn’t figure how to get there. We visited the site of the London Avenue Canal breach in Gentilly, then headed to the Lower Ninth Ward.

It was there that I took the following picture.


Unremarkable, except for the fact that I was standing in a nest of fire ants when I took it.

And I was wearing sandals.

Now if you’re ready for a somewhat disgusting sight, here’s what my foot looked like a couple days later.
Continue reading “Fever, Fire & Water”

Be Revolutionary

There’s something I wanted to write at the first anniversary of Katrina, but I never did.

I thought about it again at the second anniversary, and the third and the fourth. I still wanted to write about it, but there was something in the way. Too much to do, and time slips away. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.

This year I’m going to write it. I missed the five year anniversary by one day, but I’m going to say it at last.

And it’s simply this:

Be revolutionary.

That’s it. That’s my wish for the people of New Orleans. Come to think of it, that’s also my wish for the people of this nation and this world. But somehow it seems especially apropos at this place, at this time. We’ve been having to rebuild and rethink everything, and five years on there is still much to do. So, as we continue to work at building it back better, we need to be bold. We need to be daring. We need courage and compassion and creativity.

For example, consider this new report from Waggonner & Ball Architects, commissioned by Friends of Lafitte Corridor with a grant from the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s Environmental Fund. It asks us to consider new approaches to managing storm water in the city.

To change the way we live with water here would be revolutionary. And it might even save lives. Of course, it’s not easy to turn around and do things differently. It’s difficult. It’s expensive. But it’s necessary. And in the long run, we will pay a much greater price if we keep doing things the same old way.

The proposals in this report are just an example. We need revolutionary thinking on all fronts.

Not all revolutions are good. Not all revolutions are just. I don’t endorse change for the sake of change. For a community that has lost so much, in fact, more change may be difficult to face. But that’s our challenge, to preserve the good while revolutionizing the bad.

And actually, I think a lot of New Orleanians are doing this already. But it seems that it’s never enough. We need to constantly be supporting one another to be stronger and go further.

Posting this here won’t do much to advance the cause. Words are not enough. We need to live the revolution through our actions. I try to do that every day.

Imagine New Orleans five years from now. If we have a city that is just and humane, if all our citizens are enjoying a good quality of life, if we are thriving and healthy and green — that would be a revolution. We know we’re not their yet. But isn’t that what most of us desire?

If we want it, we have to be revolutionaries.

Katrina Time

Day 43

It’s that time of year when remembrance dominates our minds and the media. For some it can be painful and even oppressive, for others it is necessary and therapeutic. But no matter your attitude, it’s virtually inescapable.

Because humans have five fingers on each hand, this anniversary gets special attention, and the remembrance is not a strictly local phenomenon. Across the nation people are being reminded of what happened on the Gulf Coast five years ago.

But down here it’s even more intense. A superficial glance at this morning’s paper reveals no fewer than eleven Katrina-related headlines on the front pages of the various sections, including the Metro, Living and, yes, even the Sports sections. And I’m probably missing a few. I haven’t even looked at the arts and entertainment Lagniappe supplement.

This has been building all week.

If it feels like more than five years to some of us, that’s because disasters apparently make their own time. As with youth and grief and travel and certain psychedelic drugs, time seems to slow down.

This is called time dilation. When everything you take for granted is ripped out from under you, it forces you to slow down and live in the moment.

Those first two weeks after Katrina lasted about two years. The next couple months, another year. I’m not sure exactly how long the following year lasted but it was surely much longer than 365 days. Time has only slowly come to heel.

All in all, I’d say Katrina happened about 15 years ago. Anyone who’s lived through it knows I speak the truth. But because we are ruled by the calendar and not our hearts, five years it is.

A funny thing happened almost exactly halfway through those five ostensible years. We had a baby. I used to think our lives would always be defined in terms of before and after Katrina. But it turns out that having a child has been an even more profoundly transformative experience. In some ways, at least, our post-Katrina era is being eclipsed by the Age of Persephone. We’ve spent two and half years in each.

From this point on the eclipse will just become more complete. I never expected sorrow to be eclipsed by joy like this, but there it is. If I wasn’t a parent, I’d still feel satisfied with our personal recovery. But I wouldn’t feel this clear and definitive break with what came before. It would be a long gradual subsidence rather than this sudden inoculation.

I know my personal experience is just that — personal. Time has not healed all wounds. We still face manifest challenges as a community and as individuals, both here on the Gulf Coast and in the diaspora.

My heart goes out, at this time especially, to all those who are still struggling with Katrina, to those who have been displaced yet still yearn to come home, to those who have not been made whole, to those who still feel the heartbreak and loss.

I hope, in time, you find some measure of peace.

Photo by Gary Martin, licensed under Creative Commons

Pick One

I’ll be on that panel tonight (Katrina 5.0) and they’ve asked me to read a post from my blog from the first few weeks after Katrina.

The question, of course, is which one?

My mind immediately sprang to something I wrote at the end of that dark November, which I titled Random Electronic Squawking.

But I thought I’d ask any readers out there for suggestions. If you remember something specific I wrote from five years ago, then it must pack a certain punch. I’m inclined to think people remember the general overarching narrative rather than specific posts, but feel free to prove me wrong.

Hurry, though — showtime is seven o’clock tonight. Though of course I’d still be interested in hearing your thoughts after the fact. And by all means come on out to the Presbytère tonight if you can.


Katrina 5.0: A Symposium on Technology & Blogging

Next week I’ll be on a panel called “Katrina 5.0: A Symposium on Technology & Blogging” hosted by the Louisiana State Museum.

Among other things, I’ll be talking about blogging, my experience of writing about the aftermath of the levee failures, and how the platform or community has evolved in the past five years. I think it’s interesting to look at how Katrina played out in the blogosphere, and compare it to the BP oil spill and how it continues to play out. I have my own ideas, but I’d be curious to know what others think.

So — what do you think? How did blogs and new media inform your understanding of Katrina and the levee failures and the ongoing recovery work in New Orleans? In what ways is that similar or dissimilar to the story of the oil spill?

Here are the particulars. I believe the panel itself will be in the final hour of the event.

Time: August 25 · 5:30pm – 8:00pm
Location: The Presbytère, Jackson Square

Join us for a preview of, a comprehensive hurricane website from The University of Rhode Island. Meet two members of Rising Tide Nola, Bart Everson and Troy Gilbert, who captured Katrina’s wrath in real time, on their blogs. Learn about tools for disaster management from Ky Luu, Executive Director of Tulane’s DRLA and previous Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Hear from Len Bahr, prominent blogger and previous Director of the Governor’s Applied Coastal Science Program, who’s using LaCoastPost as a voice for the Gulf.

Hope you can be there. In the meantime, by all means, let me know what you think.

Katrina Jokes

[Katrina] Flattened Home

Flattened Home by Joshua Miller / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A friend of mine made a joke last week in an online discussion, and it really rubbed me the wrong way. It was a Katrina joke. I tried to play it off and make some jokes of my own, but ultimately I found, even after a couple days, that I was still ticked off. Finally I came clean with my feelings of frustration. He promptly apologized. I actually respect him more then ever for that; we kissed and made up, and as far as I can tell we’re buddies again.

But it has given me pause for reflection. Was this a simple case of misunderstanding by e-mail? It’s a famously “flat” medium where irony and nuance are lost. However, I don’t think that’s the case here.

Rather, I think that Katrina remains a sensitive topic for me, and probably lots of other people. Given the fact that it’s been four and half years, I don’t anticipate this changing any time soon. It’s beginning to look like a permanent condition.

The very word “Katrina” conjures up images of death and destruction in my mind. It conjures up the smell of mold. It reminds me of friends and neighbors who are no longer with us. It puts me back in an emotional roller coaster ride that is still not over.

As such, I’m not inclined to laugh at certain jokes.

It’s not that I have no sense of humor on the subject. To the contrary, I joke about Katrina all the time. Once, it was a coping mechanism. I laugh at such jokes when they come from certain quarters, from fellow travelers who have also had to cope with the bizarre circumstances of post-disaster reality. But when the jokes come from other quarters, my reaction may be very different. I’m liable to lose respect for the joker. I might even get a little angry.

To understand where I’m coming from, ask yourself the following:

What’s the worst thing that’s happened in your life? How do you feel when other people make jokes about it?

I’m guessing that, for most people, “the worst thing” is something private. Thus you might never hear anyone making jokes about it. So maybe it’s not such a good comparison.

But Katrina and its aftermath was a media phenomenon. Everybody saw it on TV. Everybody’s got an opinion. Everybody thinks they know what happened — especially those who don’t. Therefore it’s fair game for everyone to offer their opinions and crack their jokes.

For example, there were some Bears fans a few years ago threatening that their team would “finish what Katrina started.” There was some deranged Colts fan who thought it would be funny to superimpose the team logo on an image of Katrina.

Or a more personal example: I recently shared an article about how “New Orleans ranks eighth among the nation’s largest cities for the percentage of residents who walk and bike to work.” A friend on Facebook quipped, “Well all your cars washed away.”

A harmless comment, a little throwaway line, right? Sure. But I didn’t laugh. If anything, I find myself making excuses on his behalf — “He probably didn’t think much before tossing that off,” and so on. If the remark had come from someone who lived here — if “your cars” became “our cars” — it would read very differently to me.

But as it stands, that comment just evokes a lot of bad memories.

White Car Under Pink House

Under the Broad Street Overpass

Side Car

I’m sure he didn’t intend that.

This is not a case of post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not a case of unresolved issues. Sure, my mental health took a hit from the stress of Katrina, but I think I’ve made a (pretty much) complete recovery. I know plenty of people who haven’t. I know a guy who gets choked up every time he speaks about Katrina. It’s sad to see a grown person cry in public, but I understand where that comes from. Still and all, that’s not where I’m at. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to be able to rebound so fully.

It’s just that there are some thing which remain, for lack of a better word, serious. I’m not down with the mindset that everything’s fair game to be mocked and satirized. I don’t cotton to the perspective that we have to be cutting up all the time. To me that’s a form of mental totalitarianism.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying, pardon me for not laughing at your joke. Only, really, I’m not sorry. Would you make a joke about my friend who was murdered? Would you make fun of my baby being lead-poisoned? Damn, I hope not; that would be in poor taste. To me Katrina is very much the same territory. So I’d advise steering away from such jokes unless 1) you really don’t care about what I think, or 2) you are really, really good at it. Comedy can be an art form. I can respect that. But for most people, you’re just making an ass of yourself.

Four Years Post-Katrina

That we even call this the post-Katrina era in New Orleans is somewhat misleading. Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans, but it missed the Crescent City. What we experienced was the worst civil engineering disaster in the history of our country. Floodwalls failed without being overtopped. The Army Corps of Engineers has said our flood control infrastructure was a system “in name only” and acknowledged a serious design flaw that led to the failures that flooded the city. The Army Corps should know, since they are the ones who designed and built and maintained the non-system in the first place. So: not a natural disaster but a man-made one.

This is a point that is pretty well understood around here, and by many around the country who have been paying close attention. But the majority of Americans probably still think of the flooding of New Orleans as a natural disaster.

Does it really matter, either way? Isn’t it still a tragedy either way? That’s kind of how I feel about it. But some folks with more political savvy than I seem to think it does matter.

I saw Harry Shearer speak at Rising Tide IV. He made the case quite eloquently that we have already lost the media battle on this point. In our national discourse, the flooding of New Orleans was a natural disaster, not a failure of engineering infrastructure.

When people from other places in the country ask why they should care what happened, Harry answers: “Because you paid to destroy us.” It’s your tax dollars at work. And now that the Army Corps is supposed to build a better flood control system — scratch that, an actual system — wouldn’t you like to see it done right? Again, it’s your money.

For an example of how it might be done better, check out the Dutch Dialogues. When the Dutch came to New Orleans, a city surrounded by water, their first question was, “Where is the water and why is it hidden?” The dialogues between Dutch and Louisiana engineers and hydrologists have generated some remarkable ideas about how New Orleans can live more safely with water.

But these ideas are a far cry from what the Army Corps is actually doing. A lot of people think the fundamental governance model of the Army Corps is flawed, and that without reform we won’t get better results. That’s a tall order, but I suppose people like Harry Shearer have it right when they say it’s important people understand what actually happened here four years ago.

P.S. For some fascinating insight into how Washington relates to our troubles “down here,” read Harry’s blog on “Playing the Inside Game,” an interesting story which he related at Rising Tide a couple days before publishing on HuffPo.

A Pile of Frustrations

It’s been three weeks since the Lutheran Invasion, but there’s still a pile of four-year-old flooded junk in front of the house next door.


Don’t blame the Lutherans for this mess. Blame the Preservation Resource Center. Blame Operation Comeback.

I was so excited when my neighbor donated his house to this program, so looking forward to some positive activity there. And I do hold out hope that ultimately they will make the situation better, once they get the house renovated and sold to a first-time homebuyer.

But in the meantime they’ve actually made our living situation worse. Our houses are so close together this pile is practically on our front steps. It’s moldy and stinky and nasty and gross. It spills into the street, making it difficult to park our car. I’ve had to shovel the pile off the street back on to itself. Some mirrors and panes of glass that were intact have gotten broken. Neighbors have thrown their garbage on top of the pile, somewhat offset by the pilfering of items from the pile. I’m not sure who would want this water-damaged furniture but I believe I saw some pieces end up on a neighbor’s porch. The pile is actually getting smaller.

I had to warn some kids yesterday that climbing around on and playing the pile is really not a good idea. Our former neighbor, Chastity, stopped by yesterday and took some old vinyl records from the pile. The sleeves were ruined but the records themselves appeared to be in good shape. Today she stopped by and let us know that “some of those records are 200 years old!”

I’ve been in regular communication with the PRC about this problem. They assure me they’re working on it.

Not fast enough for me.

Update: August 18: The pile of crap was removed , hooray at last. Nothing left but broken glass.

Desperately Seeking a Brother WP-500

Back in the late ’80s I bought a dedicated word processor. My main criterion at the time was something that seems silly now: I wanted printed output that would be indistinguishable from a typewriter. So I got a Brother WP-500, which featured a daisywheel printer. This enabled me to produce documents that appeared to have been typed the old-fashioned way, but in reality all my documents were saved to 3.5″ disks.

Besides writing papers for college, I wanted to be able to send letters that would seem to be hand-typed, so that I could emulate Bruce West, author of Outrageously Yours. And indeed I got some good pranks out of this machine. But now it appears the joke’s on me.

After years of lugging that old machine from one residence to the next, in Bloomington and then New Orleans, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife, it finally met its end in 2005, when the federal levees failed and the lower level of our house was submerged in several feet of brackish water. Unfortunately that sort of thing tends to have a negative impact on electronic equipment.

I still have the 3.5″ disks with several years of writing stored on them. And that’s where this little tale of woe gets ugly. It seems that Brother used its own proprietary format on these disks. (Apparently this is the case for all of Brother’s models marketed in the United States that have the WP prefix but no suffix, that is, with no letters after the model number.) Although these are standard low-density diskettes with a 720 KB capacity, Brother’s perverted little format only uses 240 KB per disk, which makes no sense at all to me, but there it is.

The upshot is this. I can’t get the data off the disks. They can’t be read by DOS machines or anything on a typical modern desktop. I thought I could just use a more modern Brother to convert them to RTF or some sort of readable file format, but turns out that’s not possible either. Most data conversion companies can’t handle this format. The few that do are prohibitively expensive. $40 a disk is a bit much for me, since I have 20 disks.

It would be cool if I could get my hands on an old Brother WP-500. Then I could at least print these documents out and scan them for optical character recognition. Trouble is, such machines are hard to find. So I’m posting up here as a way of getting started on the search. I don’t necessarily even need to buy one. I’d be happy to beg, borrow or steal — or rent, at a reasonable price. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a WP-500. I think some of the other older models may be compatible. Problem is, I’m not for sure which models those might be.

So — any tips on finding vintage word processors?

Postscript: One may well wonder why I’m troubling over these old files that I’ve obviously been able to live without for so long. Well. Katrina acted as a giant filter on my life. I lost many old documents, making what I’ve still got all the more precious to me.

Post postscript: It seems I’m not the only one in the Crescent City singing the data recovery blues.


I commented a year ago (to the very day!) that some sidewalks around our home were impassable, some friends recommended a stroller upgrade. They didn’t understand that our stroller wasn’t the problem. The major obstacle just around the corner was Gwen’s FEMA trailer, as pictured here:


I don’t think any stroller in the world could jump over that thing.

Well, Gwen’s renovation is finally done. She’s out of the trailer and back in her house. And some time last week the FEMA trailer was removed at last. And now that stretch of sidewalk is passable. I know because I walk it every day with a baby strapped to my chest. Navigating that block was actually a bit tricky, and it just got a lot easier, which also means safer. So I’m happy for Gwen, for myself, and for another sign of progress on the long hard slog of this recovery. It may not seem like much, but it means a lot.

Now if I could just get my other neighbors not to park on the sidewalk…


This month’s Harper’s Index contains the following nugget:

Year by which New Orleans is expected to be rebuilt, at the current pace: 2028

Their source is listed as the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute but I can’t find the specific citation.

Anyway. 2028. That prediction sounds about right to me. The girl will turn twenty that year. I wonder how the world will look to her, growing up in these circumstances?

Of course, a lot could happen, or not happen, between now and then.


Three years ago, I became aware of a collaborative poster project which made use of a couple of photographs I’d published under a Creative Commons license.

Peach Poster, 72 dpi

According to the krazy genius who put it all together:

This mosaic was made from 2500 individual photographs of circles, photographed by 542 talented individuals.

The mosaic was constructed algorithmically by Jim Bumgardner using images from the Squared Circle photo pool at Flickr, the photo-blogging website.

Jim was selling these posters at cost. I ordered one and was really knocked out by the quality. So I took it to a shop to get it framed.

Then Katrina hit, and the floodwalls failed, and New Orleans flooded, including the frame shop. To the best of my knowledge that shop never reopened.

Recently I was reminded of the poster, so I took another look at it online, and was touched to discover that back in 2005 Jim was selling autographed copies to raise money for Katrina relief.

I looked in to ordering another copy of the poster, but they had sold out long ago. I didn’t really mind. The Federal Flood taught me not to place too much emphasis on material possessions.

I left a note for Jim, recounting my story, and thanking him for helping the cause. Lo and behold, he had a couple extras sitting in the garage, and he mailed ’em to me, no charge. Thanks, man.

So now I’ve got a beautiful work of art in my office, with a great story behind it.

But I’m not getting it framed during hurricane season.

Journals, Volume X

I’ve been keeping a journal long before I started this blog. I started in 1977 when I was a mere whelp, and I’ve been writing on and off ever since.

Unfortunately all my journals got soaked when the floodwalls failed and New Orleans was flooded. Like an idiot, I’d left them in a box on the floor in the lower level of our house. It is one of my biggest regrets.

I thought they were gone forever, but through the miracle of technology I am bringing them back. Today I am proud to announce the publication of Journals, Volume X. This is the tenth volume of my journals, written during the summer of 1989 as I hitch-hiked around the United States.

You can get your own copy from Lulu now. Although the download is free, I recommend popping for the $15.98 printed copy if you want a unique art-book. The reason it’s so expensive is that it is full color on all 75 pages. The PDF just doesn’t compare with the experience of holding the book in your hands. It’s like holding a sodden mess plucked from the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. Only it doesn’t stink, and you don’t have to wash your hands after touching it. Plus I get a one cent commission for each copy purchased. I don’t want to make any money folks, I just love to sell books.

Allow me to explain a little more. When I unearthed my sodden journals from the wreckage of our home, I couldn’t bear to throw them away. When they dried out, many of them proved legible. I took Volume V back to Indiana, where we had evacuated, and photographed each page with a digital camera. I put those pictures on Flickr and also made a book with Lulu, but the quality of the images was not quite high enough to satisfy me.

Later on I figured out how to get much higher quality by scanning each page. I won’t bore you with the details of image processing and then creating the PDF. Suffice it to say that I got frustrated and put it aside for a couple years. But all this time the files were still waiting patiently on my hard drive for me to finish the job.

My main goal was just to preserve my journal for my own satisfaction, and for my family. But I do think the end product is weirdly compelling in its own right, even to people who don’t know me — maybe especially so.

Every page is actually legible, some more so than others, depending on the pen I was using at the time.


I showed this book to a student here at the University today. He found the entry written on the day he was born. That made me feel old.

Will I ever get the time to give my other journal volumes the same treatment? I don’t know. I hope so. I see that Lulu now offers a scanning service that could save me labor, but it is more expensive. It bears investigation.

A tip of the hat to Jon Konrath for turning me on to Lulu with his book Summer Rain.

Good Riddance to a Rodent-Ridden Ruin

I wrote a letter to the owner. I talked to him too. I made a video about it. I wrote an editorial about it. I talked to my City Council rep about it. I went on the evening news about it.

But nothing seemed to happen.

I’m talking about the infamous grocery at 3126 Bienville, just around the corner from our house. It was flooded in 2005 and never cleaned up. It was overrun by rats.

Despite all my bellyaching, nothing seemed to happen with the store.

Scratch that, actually something did happen: Somebody tagged it with this cool graffiti.

Vampire Kiss

That apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back. A blatant health hazard is one thing, but artsy graffiti? That cannot be tolerated. So finally, this past weekend, a crew materialized and tore it down.


I’m not one to cheer demolitions as a rule, but it was about freakin’ time this thing came down. It’s been almost three years since the flood. Of course, by now even the rats had gotten bored and moved on.

A Messy Job

I talked to the crew. They said this took two or three times longer than normal because it was such a mess. And it didn’t smell pretty either.

Good riddance! Now I wonder how long we’ll be looking at that vacant concrete slab?

Clearly, the moral of this story is that when you want to call attention to a problem in New Orleans, you should paint big flying purple vampire lips on it.