The Evacuation That Wasn’t

So remember how I said we were heading out — buggin’ — evacuating?

That didn’t happen.

We were planning to go, but the hurricane parties here were just too good to resist.

Ride the Storm Out

Actually the real reason is that our anticipated path was looking worse and worse for a return drive. Of course we could have gone west, or east, but straight north was where we wanted to go, and that wasn’t looking very smart. Personally I was inclined to stay here anyhow. Xy was vacillating, changing her mind every twenty minutes or so. Realizing we’d need to drive back through the storm to return home sealed the decision.

Continue reading “The Evacuation That Wasn’t”

The Old Testament in Five Minutes

Genesis Creation

Watching The Theologians this weekend reminded me: I finished work on another movie earlier this summer and never wrote about it. It’s a five minute animated version of the Old Testament.

Believe it or not, this took me five years to complete. If I’d cleared my desk and worked on nothing else it probably would have taken a month but of course I have other responsibilities. In fact this lay untouched for years at a time. So it felt really good to get this one done.

The script and voiceover are by that notorious maverick bible scholar, Dr. Michael Homan, author of The Bible for Dummies and chief dude over at BibleDudes.com. He also does more traditional scholarly work, primarily debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

In that vein, I’m sure Dr. Homan would shudder at my terminology. I refer to the “Old Testament” so Christians like my aunt will key in immediately. However that term is not really accurate. After all, the text is also sacred to the Jews, and I imagine they don’t appreciate calling it the Old Testament. But you have to admit the Old/New distinction was some brilliant marketing on the part of the early Christians — to say nothing of changing the order of the books.

Anyhow, the correct title of this movie is The Bible Dudes’ Like Way Cool Tanak Summary Movie Thingie.

If you want to know more about the word Tanak, the BibleDudes can explain it all for you. Or check out Lewis Black’s amusing comments on the whole Old/New Testament subject.

The Theologians

Michael Homan has concocted another short movie of inscrutable strangeness. This one is called The Theologians.

This one’s got a lot of academic in-jokes that are over my untutored head, but if you watch carefully you’ll see me in one brief scene, along with Xy and Persephone who are particularly adorable.

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I also provided vocals for the theme song. Please don’t hold that against me.

Michael said he values this movie mostly as a sort of elaborate snapshot, a time capsule if you will, capturing the essence of a circle of friends at a particular moment. A number of Bloomingtonians have described the first season of ROX same way.

It’s great to have creative friends.

Mission-Driven

I went in to work last Tuesday just to remind everyone what I look like and make sure they hadn’t changed the lock on my office.

Around noon I attended a “town hall meeting” on the University’s strategic plan, which is currently under draft. It’s eight plans in one, each addressing specific topics such as technology or flagship programs.

The real grabber, though, was the report on the University’s mission. I’d been off campus for a month and a half, so everything kind of seemed new and fresh to me, including our well-worn mission statement — the promotion of “a more just and humane society.” It was refreshing to be reminded of it, and invited to critically examine it. Also refreshing to remember that unlike a business, profit is not our bottom line. Indeed, the report pointed out that our mission is in direct conflict with good business sense. We serve poor students, and that’s just not as profitable as catering to an economic elite.

The mission report was authored by a committee chaired by my friend and neighbor and fellow blogger Michael Homan. In speaking with him the previous weekend I got that old familiar sad cynical pessimistic vibe that I often exude myself. Sometimes we feel that our work isn’t really accomplishing much. We give it our best shot, but suspect it’s all for naught, that the fix is in, it’s all rigged, and we’re just jumping through hoops.

As a counterdote to that, I wanted to commend Michael (and his committee members) on a job well done. You inspired me, at least. You reminded me of why I work at a university, and why I’m proud to work at this university in particular. Thanks for that.

Note: The strategic planning reports can be read here.

Whole Lotta Downs

Today I went to see the Saints game with Michael. We rode our bikes to the Superdome. It was the first NFL game I’ve ever seen. The Bloody Mary was good and so was the alligator sausage. Pretty cool that the Saints won. That’s four straight wins after four straight losses, a crazy season so far. Also in this game they broke the team record for the number of first downs. Or maybe they just tied the record, I’m not sure. Anyway, it was a whole lotta downs. Michael told me I should put that in my blog, and he was the man with the extra ticket, after all.

But if you wanna read something really heavy and profound, check out Michael’s latest post, about building foundations on ancestors and children.

Beer with the Earthling

Michael and I met Dave Coustan (a.k.a. the Earthling) at Finn McCool’s yesterday after work, to talk about Mid-City’s desperate thirst for WiFi.

Earthling Meets Michael

Earthlink is working to bring free WiFi to New Orleans. They’re naturally inclined to focus on the most populous areas first, that is the unflooded areas. We’ve been trying to make the argument that the need is greater in a devastated area like Mid-City, which was flooded but is coming back fast. There’s lots of people living and working in Mid-City, and we need WiFi. Traditional landline systems (DSL, cable) are taking too long to rebuild. BellSouth told Michael he’d have to wait two or three years for a phone!

So we were bending Dave’s ear about that, just trying to keep the issue alive in the corporate mind of Earthlink.

Big thanks to Alan for helping us hook up.

Boozocracy

I’m proud — no, scratch that — I’m chagrined to announce the debut of Boozocracy, a new online fundraising campaign.

Michael Homan and I are letting people vote on our drinking habits in order to raise money for a library our neighborhood. It’s kind of like the intersection of literary culture and drinking culture and democracy. Our city of New Orleans is well known for its literary and drinking culture. Democracy? Not so much. We’re working on that. But rather than explain the concept here, check out the Boozocracy website, and it will all make sense. Maybe.

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You’ll see my face plastered across the Boozocracy website, but the blame for this whole thing really must be laid at the feet of Michael Homan. He came up with the idea. And some blame accrues to Howie as well, for taking the photos.

Anyway, it’s for real. We are putting our livers on the line for a good cause. Please help — with your donations, and by spreading the word. Throw Boozocracy a link, and hopefully we’ll reach our goal soon. Let the chips fall where they may!

Drama on North Salcedo

Ever had the feeling that all the pieces are coming together — but none of them fit? Like maybe some wiseacre at the factory mixed together a bunch of different puzzles as a prank?

Yeah, me too.

I stopped by Michael’s house after work yesterday to talk with Roy Bragg of the San Antonio Express-News.

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While he was chatting with Michael and Alan and Kalypso and me, I got a call from Xy. She sounded a little panicked. There were police at the house across the street, and she wasn’t sure what was going on, and could I please come home ASAP?

I didn’t rush home, but I didn’t linger either. I finished the interview and took off on my bike. When I got there, I discovered a series of signs posted on our front porch, obviously in Xy’s handwriting.

Landlord is Unfair

The signs said:

Maria Santana, landlord of 216/218 Salcedo is unfair!!

Do not rent 216/218 Salcedo
Landlord overcharges & is mean 🙁

It’s not nice to overcharge people
& provide them with no electricity
Shame on you landlord 🙁
216/218 Salcedo
Maria Santana

There were no cops across the street, just a U-Haul truck and a bunch of personal possessions on the sidewalk. I had some idea what was going on, but before I could speak to anyone, Bull rolled up. Bull is a big guy with a big handlebar moustache, one of the plumbers on Coleman’s crew.

A brief digression is in order: Ever since we had our house replumbed a few weeks ago, we’ve had a problem with hot water coming out the cold taps. Now I’ve lived in New Orleans long enough to know you don’t get truly cold water in the summer, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean scalding, steaming hot water. It runs hot for a couple minutes, then chills down to a reasonable temperature. It’s weird brushing your teeth with hot water, and the sensation of the toilet bowl filling up with hot water is especially strange. Coleman has told me that it’s just a matter of heat transfer, that the cold pipes are picking up heat from the hot pipes downstairs, and that it can all be fixed by wrapping them in some insulation.

Bull

So that’s why he sent Bull and the crew over. I took Bull in and showed him the pipes in question. He was right mystified. He said, and I’m not making this up, “Bull don’t understand this.” It seemed the heat transfer theory wasn’t borne out by his actual observations. Heat seemed to be radiating from the water heater much further back up the incoming pipe than one would expect, and that’s how hot water was getting into the cold pipes. “Plumbing ain’t supposed to work like that.”

I left Bull to it and made my way upstairs at last. Xy was in the kitchen, talking on the phone about drama at school, and cradling a tiny orange kitten on her shoulder. What the hell was going on here?

I had to wait until she got off the phone to find out. As I’ve mentioned before, the tenants in the rental property across the street have been living without electricity for weeks. I guess they stopped paying rent, and I can’t blame them. The lack of electricity was entirely the fault of the property owner. Now it seems the owner was evicting the tenants and keeping their deposit to boot. That’s why the cops had been there: to serve the eviction notice.

Another digression: I called numerous city and state offices over the last few days, trying to find out what the legal definition of habitability might be. According to Carla Parker, one of my City Council rep’s legal aides, neither electricity nor hot water are required to meet the legal definition of habitability. As we like to say down here in Louisiana, “Welcome to the Third World.” Only that joke’s less funny to me every day.

Xy was up in arms about the whole situation. We liked those tenants: Damien, Nora and Ovi. They’re good, decent people. As for Maria (the landlady) we’d heard many bad stories about her over the years, from the previous owner of our home, and from our old next door neighbor. Now we were seeing for ourselves what a bitch she could be.



Xy Explains on Vimeo

When Maria saw the signs she wasn’t pleased. Xy confronted her on the street and excoriated her in Spanish and English.



Xy Confronts Maria on Vimeo

Maria took a picture of the signs, I suppose to make us think she might sue for libel or slander or defamation or somesuch, but I don’t think she’d have a case. (Anybody have a contrary opinion?) Then she drove away in her nice shiny Lexus.

I commiserated with Damien, who was now trying to unload some of his possessions in an impromptu yard sale. Then I noticed new tenants already moving in. Maria must have lined them up a while ago. To welcome them to the neighborhood I helped carry some of the bigger pieces upstairs. It’s only furnishings at this point: They aren’t actually moving in until the electricity is on. Good strategy.

Then Walter showed up.

Walter

Walter is an odds-job who lives in the neighborhood. He’d approached Xy a few days ago about cutting down the dead tree next to our house, but she deferred the price negotiations to me. This was my first encounter with Walter. He makes quite an impression. For one thing, he’s quite striking, visually, being about 6′ 4″ or so and nothing but bones and muscle. For another thing, he’s got a rural Louisiana accent that is almost impenetrable to my Midwestern ears. And then there’s his whole approach to life, which is refreshingly different. “Pay me whatever you think is fair. If you don’t have any money that’s OK too. We’ve just got to trust in the Lord.”

And that brings us to Milo, the orange kitten. Walter found Milo a short time ago and gave him to Damien. Now that Damien was moving, somehow Milo seems to have gotten transferred to us. Not that we mind. He’s excruciatingly cute.

Milo

(Did you know that most calico cats are female and most orange cats are male? I didn’t.)

Just to make everything even more weird, Walter then hurt himself and asked Xy for some alcohol. She brought him a shot of whiskey. No, no, he wanted rubbing alcohol. But he graciously accepted the whiskey.

Somewhere during all the drama the plumbers left. We still have hot water coming out the cold tap. Oh well. It’s hard to be mad about anything when you have a cute kitten that needs lots of TLC.

And the signs? They’re staying up for now, at least until it rains or we get sued. I think Maria may have a hard time renting the other three units in her fourplex.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I also posted Damien’s side of the story.

Breakfast with Arthur

I had breakfast with Arthur Hardy this morning!

Arthur and Michael

Yes, the Arthur Hardy. Michael and I met him at Betsy’s Pancake House to discuss how Mid-City Neighborhood Organization might work with the Warren Easton Charter Foundation, of which Arthur (class of ’65) is Vice-President. I live right behind Warren Easton High School, so I’m very much interested in seeing the school re-open successfully in the Fall of 2006. More than that, we want to get the community more involved in the school, and the school more involved in the community.

Arthur seemed like a really nice guy. Plus he treated for breakfast.

Pix from NOLA

Utility Room

I’ve posted a bunch of pictures from the trip Michael and I made to New Orleans a few days ago. I’ve put ’em all in this set.

Xy in the Trash

Mostly I took pictures of my home and possessions, for insurance purposes, but I did take a few pix of more general interest around town.

Molly's at the Market

I didn’t take nearly as many pictures as I might have, because I was busy shooting video which should appear in a future episode of ROX.

Michael has posted a lot more pictures.

Common Ground

He put the best ones in a small set but if you want to see them all try looking at the photos he’s tagged “katrina.”

Evacuation Note

Of course you might also do some tag-surfing to look at the many Katrina-related photos posted to Flickr — take this cluster of photos for example. Or the most interesting photos tagged with “katrina.”

Complete Beauty

Bone Tired

I am exhausted — mentally, emotionally, physically.

Michael and I got to our homes. We took pictures and tried to assess the damage and retrieved some belongings. We rescued Oot, Michael’s daughter’s sugar glider.

All before noon.

Then we drove around the city and checked things out. We took pictures of friends’ houses: MaPó, PJ, Todd Stanislav and Gerald Boodoo. We’ll post those pictures as soon as possible, but it may be a few days, as our internet connectivity is somewhat limited at present.

After that we made our way to Molly’s in the Quarter and had a couple beers.

So: What about our house? I’m not sure what to say. I was braced for the worst. It was not the worst. The house is still standing. It appears to be intact structurally — but who knows. The upstairs is dry and relatively undamaged, though there’s a nice big whole in the roof where the attic fan used to be.

As for the lower floor… Almost a total loss. It appeared to have taken on five feet of water. Everything was slimy and moldy and gross. The only items salvageable might be a few things on high shelves.

We were lucky to be able to get to our homes at all. My insurance adjuster drove all the way from Mobile only to be refused entry at the checkpoint.

I didn’t do any cleanup to speak of. The task is so huge it boggles the mind. But the longer it’s delayed the worse it will be.

We will probably hang around one more day waiting for Michael’s adjuster, who is incommunicado, and head back to the Midwest on Tuesday.

Southbound

Michael and I left Bloomington just before 6AM. Got a press pass from WFHB and a video camera from CATS and a van packed to the roof with relief supplies. We’ll probably only get as far as Jackson, MS tonight but we’ll play it by ear. Here’s hoping Rita doesn’t dump too much rain on New Orleans.

Plans

The Mid-City neighborhood in New Orleans remains offically closed, but people are getting in every day and posting reports and pictures to blogs and message boards. I read all this sitting here 800 miles away.

So I’m heading back to New Orleans later this week with Michael. We hope to be able to sneak to our homes, salvage a few possessions and survey the damage. I’ll take pix for insurance purposes and shoot some video for ROX.

I’m prepared for the worst. Our house could be falling in upon itself. It could be burglarized. It could have burned down. The lower level, which was flooded, is undoubtably covered in mold. Reports have indicated people can’t breathe in some of these houses even with respirator masks. I’ll open the windows to air the place out. I wish I had some kind of rig that could spray vast amounts of fungicide, but probably there’s very little clean-up that I can do without electricity, a clean water supply, lots of time, professional help, and a hardware stores.

Hell, I may not even be able to get to the house. But I’ve got to try. And as long as we’re driving a van down there, we hope to bring some supplies to a free medical clinic set up by some grassroots activists in Algiers, the neighborhood right across the river from the Quarter. (They were there well before the Red Cross arrived, and they’re looking to set up another clinic in the 9th Ward, and they’re also looking eastward to Mississippi.) They need things like glucometers, oxygen tanks, allergy medicine, etc. Also more banal stuff like power strips and extension cords. And Malik Rahim has requested canned goods and personal hygiene items which he’s distributing to people who need them.

To that end, I’ve begun collecting supplies from the local community here in Bloomington. The response so far has been heart-warming.

Michael arrives tomorrow (Wednesday) evening. We’ll spend Thursday collecting more supplies, and we’ll drive down Friday. I think we’ll stay at Howie’s house.

Of course, Hurricane Rita could throw a wrench in these plans — but I don’t think so.

Homan

My co-worker, neighbor and friend Michael Homan made it out of New Orleans alive. He has written an account of his experiences which is simply must be read to be believed. So take a deep breath and read it.