Sporting Chance

Probably the biggest surprise for me on this vacation was just how prosperous Bloomington seemed. (More on that later.) If I had any doubts on this front, they were laid to rest by my visit to The Rail.

Contemporary craft cocktails and tapas — in Bloomington? I was impressed. And I was even more impressed when it came out that our bartender, Colin Boilini, had won a contest with Tales of the Cocktail. They’ll be bringing him down here to New Orleans next week.

Naturally we commanded Mr. Boilini to prepare for us his award-winning cocktail — which he did.
Continue reading Sporting Chance

B-Line

The first thing I did when I got to Bloomington was to ride the B-Line. Lucky me, I have generous friends who let me borrow a bicycle.

Trailhead

The B-Line is the local greenway, a recently constructed urban rail-trail, 3.1 miles in length, running alongside an active rail line for its final stretch. Does this sound familiar to New Orleanians? It should.

Of course I took some photos.

B-Line Bridge

I was frankly astonished at how nice the B-Line was. Lights, public art, landscaping, interpretive signage, bridges, the works. I saw lots of people enjoying it too.

People on the B-Line

My most astonishing moment on the B-Line came when I saw a groundskeeper zoom up in a little motorized vehicle, hop off, pick up two microscopic pieces of trash with a damn forceps, and then ride off.

Groundskeeper

Did I make a wrong turn and end up in Disneyland?

I found this salient quote on the website of the City of Bloomington:

“This is the most significant economic development project on the City’s agenda. It’s monumental in its scope and importance.”
– Mayor Mark Kruzan

Anyhow, I hope the citizens of Bloomington appreciate the B-Line. I know I did.

How We Celebrated the Summer Solstice

We went way up to the mountains of northern Alabama, to Monte Sano State Park.

Monte Sano

No elaborate rituals. No goat sacrifice. Just hanging out in the woods. Well, we did make those solstice stones earlier. But mostly we just hung out in the woods.

I don’t think we’ve ever done that, as a family. It was good.

We stayed at a cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. I’m fascinated by stuff built by the CCC and WPA, and I wonder why we don’t implement programs like that now, during this time of economic crisis. Anyhow, the cabin was small and charming. The stone floors are delightfully cool in the summertime.

Weenie Roast

We did our cooking over an open fire. Hot dogs and s’mores. Yum.

Early in the morning of the longest day, Persephone and I made a short hike to a nearby playground.

After horsing around for a while, I tried doing a chin-up. Maybe I should have limbered up first or something, because I pulled a muscle in my shoulder and neck. Ouch! I was practically immobilized for half the day.

Actually I was able to move around and even go an a slightly longer hike later in the day. We hiked out to a firetower only to find it was locked up. But at least we got to see some wild creatures along the way.

Black Snake

For me, anyhow, this was the best way to celebrate one of the most sacred days of the year.

So this is how our summer vacation began. After a couple nights Monte Sano, we made our way up to Indiana.

Return Home

I got Persephone up at dawn to see the sunrise on our last morning at Vero. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite as dramatic as on the morning of the solstice. But it was still beautiful.

Sunrise

Unfortunately I neglected to tell Xy I was getting our daughter up so early. I also neglected to inform her that we were out of coffee. As a result, she was not pleasant company that morning, or really any of the next 740 miles.

Unisex

We headed out at a decent hour, with a tank full of gas, but I think we made our first pit stop about ten minutes down the road.

Later, at another pit stop, a certain someone had a bowel movement of a disconcerting fluorescent turquoise color. For a moment we thought she had some strange space alien disease, then we remembered the Superman cone she’d had the night before. Judging by Robyn’s comment yesterday, we are not the only parents to encounter the bizarre after-effects of the Superman.

Despite such distractions we made good time, and soon it was clear that we would be making the return trip in one day, not two. Just as I suspected. The return trip is always shorter.

Back Home

I felt sort of dizzy after driving thirteen hours, but I was glad to be back home.

Things I forgot to note:

  • This was my father-in-law’s first visit to our new house.
  • Somewhere in the vicinity of Madison County, where we bunked down on our first night, Mike and I were discussing where Ray Charles was born, but neither of us could remember. Turns out it was, coincidentally, Madison County.
  • Monday night we had dinner at a place called Mr. Manatee’s. Among other things they had excellent fried oysters — possibly the best I’ve ever had.
  • While making the ceviche I listened to the world premiere of the new album from The Machine in the Garden via A Darker Shade of Pagan. Must have liked it because I bought the album upon getting back home.
  • Maybe next time I should try making escabeche instead. Just a thought.
  • We also saw Bon Iver on the Colbert Report and I bought their new album too, so a good week for new music.
  • We saw Ray Nagin hawking his new book on the Daily Show, and I felt sorry for the man — not because Jon Stewart skewered him, but because he didn’t.

And finally I should note that I don’t think I vacation well. The very idea of a vacation seems antithetical to my nature. Perhaps I’m more suited to quests — something more purpose-driven.

This concludes my travel recap. Tomorrow, it’s back to the present.

Town Thursday

Technically, the city of Vero includes plenty of beachfront. In fact the city officially changed its name to Vero Beach back in 1925 but old-timers like me still prefer to call it Vero. Anyway, my point is that I don’t feel like I’m in “town” when I’m standing in the surf staring out at the greenish-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Truth to tell, I don’t really feel like I’m in town until I’ve crossed over the Indian River Lagoon and left Orchid Island entirely. That’s not really fair because a lot of people live on the island, but as a a vacationer I can’t help feeling I’m still on vacation when I’m in such close proximity to the beach.

So Thursday was the day we went “into town.” We started with a visit to Royal Palm Pointe Park.

Royal Palm Pointe Park

It’s not huge but it’s certainly gorgeous, nicely landscaped and lavished with original artwork, and featuring at its center a fun splash fountain, inscribed with a spiral pattern. A great place for kids to play on a hot day.

Persephone at Royal Pointe

Every time I see one of these I wonder why we don’t have one in New Orleans. They couldn’t be too expensive to build and maintain, and certainly we have a climate that’s conducive. I’ve heard City Park has plans, but right now the nearest one is in Mandeville. I’ve never actually been, though Xy has taken Persephone there a couple times. I think it’s more basic than the one in Vero.

Compass Rose

After a good drenching, we headed to the Humane Society Thrift Shop. We love to visit thrift stores wherever we go. It’s kind of a compulsion with us. Vero has a good one. Persephone found a straw hat.

Hat

She wore it around the store as we shopped and got numerous compliments from fellow shoppers, who didn’t realize she was only trying it on for size. In the end, I shelled out the $1.50 and purchased it for her.

Soon we were back at the Driftwood.

Waves

OK, so not much of a trip into town, but it was hot, and we were on vacation.

Being slightly sunburnt about the torso, I took the laptop outside and sat in the shade, posting a meditation on Rogue Spirituality to my blog and catching up with e-mail.

Shutting Down

Then I decided it was time to shut it down and head to Waldo’s for a beer.

Drink

Soon I was sitting at the bar while my family joined me in the pool. Continuing the “town” theme, I met a local guy, a freelance nurse, who gave me the rundown on his life story. Mike also made a new friend, a local character named Bibble, I think.

Bibble & Mike

He was playing a miniature steel guitar while wearing a hat of his own creation. He made a little bird for Persephone which is now hanging from our rear-view mirror.

Drinks

After a few rounds, we adjourned (with our drinks) for another al fresco dinner, burgers on the grill if memory serves.

Persephone

We’d reached that inevitable point in the vacation when thoughts of our impending departure were beginning to loom. So Xy and her father and I took a good long walk along the beach as the last rays of light slipped away.

Daughter/Father

Vero Beach at Twilight

Missing Monday

I took a lot of photos on this vacation. Around 400, I think, the best of which are slowly finding their way into a set on Flickr. I’m using them to reconstruct the trip in my mind, to jog my memory as to what happened when.

And yet there’s a gap. I didn’t take any photos on Monday. Not one.

What happened on that day? Without documentation, I feel bereft — naked — alone on the edge — like Andrew Bowen during Fringe month.

That last reference may seem gratuitous but it’s not. While Xy was in Fishville I bought her a new laptop, but I had an ulterior motive: I wanted a computer to bring with me on this trip. And so I did.

(It’s an Acer Aspire AS5742z-4685 LX.R4P02.020 15.6″ Notebook, Intel Pentium P6100 2.0GHz, 4GB DDR3 Memory, 320GB HDD, DVD Super Multi-Drive, Intel GMA HD, with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit which I got for $391.09, refurbished, from Cheetah Deals via Buy.com. Thanks to all the folks who gave me pointers.)

And so I was checking my e-mail and catching up with websites like Project Conversion constantly.

Looking back on Facebook, I see I shared this link: 2011 National Days of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places with the comment, “Something to think about as the solstice approaches.”

More on the solstice later.

And on Twitter:

My three-year-old daughter wants to know: “Who is Weiner?” And so it begins.

I also used that laptop to compose my monthly letter to my daughter, though I didn’t publish it until the next day.

Thus, even though I didn’t take any photos, we can still trace my digital spoor, as it were.

I was going to write that the main break in my routine was that I didn’t blog during my week in Vero. But obviously I’ve already given the lie to that. In fact I posted to my blog three times during the week. Oops. I told myself that I wanted to maintain a normal online presence so people wouldn’t know I was away from the house, but that’s bogus.

All of which gives me pause to wonder about routines and habits. I’ve often observed that my life is a process of establishing routines and breaking them. Isn’t the point of a vacation to get outside one’s daily routine, the regular grind of the rat race? But I like my job and I don’t feel like a racing rat. I try to live my life such that I don’t feel I need a vacation. I have the good fortune of generally enjoying my daily routine. Much of that involves having my head caught up in the net. Is that a bad thing? Habits usually feel good on some level, but that doesn’t mean they’re good all the way through. I enjoy having a drink, but if I find myself drinking too much, I cut back. Should I have left the laptop at home?

Maybe next time.

Ceviche Sunday

Let’s see. My last post got us most of the way through Saturday. We arrived in Vero mid-afternoon and checked in at the Driftwood.

The Driftwood Inn

Longtime readers may recall that Xy and I took a vacation here back in June of 2007, a week of lovebugs and lovemaking. We suspect our daughter was conceived in Vero. It makes a nice story anyway. That week was our first break from the maddening grind of postdiluvian New Orleans, and boy howdy did we need it.

They say you can’t go home again. It’s probably also true that you can’t take the same vacation twice. This time around we had a three-year old with us, and my in-laws too, so it was an entirely different experience.

Having said that, I do still love the Driftwood. It is truly a unique place with an interesting history. More about that later.

Pelican

While the others frolicked on the beach, my mother-in-law and I headed to the grocery and stocked up on food for the week. We might have bought a tiny bit too much. The cart was so heavy I could barely push it to checkout, and upon bagging the food filled a second cart. Thanks to Susie for picking up the tab, which was nearly $300. Back at the Driftwood we had a simple spaghetti dinner, and then I made another crucial run — to the liquor store. After some deliberation, I picked up some Dubonnet Rouge, Averna, Courvoisier, and 4 Orange. More about that later.

Sliced Peppers

Come Sunday morning, I got busy slicing. Red, yellow and green bell peppers. Purple onion. Serrano peppers. Garlic. Cilantro. Fresh grouper. And I juiced lots of lemons and limes. Yup, I was making ceviche. Have I written about my ceviche obsession? I don’t believe I have. It started last summer, prompted my an article in the paper. I’m sure there are some good options at local restaurants, but so far the only ceviche I’ve had has been prepared by my own hand. It is somewhat labor intensive, as lots and lots of fine slicing is the key. I consider such food preparation an act of devotion to family and friends, and of course I was eager to share the love with my in-laws.

While I was busy slicing like a madman, Persephone was having her first dip in the pool at Waldo’s. I was able to snap a photo from our balcony.

First Dip

Soon I had the ceviche “cooking” in the fridge. It’s the citric acid that denatures the fish. But “denaturing” sounds rather unappetizing. I think “cooking” is a better term.

Then it was my turn to frolic in the ocean.

Atlantic

As I mentioned earlier, it was a trip playing in the surf with Persephone. But soon enough we were back in the pool at Waldo’s.

Waldo's

They advertise this place as the “Last of the Great American Hangouts.” Of course we have a lot of awesome hangouts in New Orleans, but I can’t dispute that Waldo’s is a fun place. It’s on the ocean and the National Register of Historic Places. It is a restaurant and a bar and a pool and a hotel. It’s a part of the Driftwood, with rooms above the eatery and kitchen, and it’s named after the guy who created the driftwood, the eccentric Hoosier Waldo Sexton. More about him later.

As for being the “last” of its kind, well, after hanging out by the interstate exit Friday night I was ready to believe that too.

Waldo’s is also a venue for live music. On this particular Sunday afternoon, we were grooving to a duo with a surprisingly full sound, covering mostly 60s psychedelic folk rock.

Duo

I wish I’d gotten their name because they were fairly amazing. I think they played three full sets. I could have sat by the pool and listened to them forever.

Meanwhile, Persephone had latched on to a girl just a couple years older than herself and was emulating everything she did. Soon she was diving off the edge of the pool and swimming underwater. The expressions of pure joy on her face were certainly worth the trip. Sorry, I didn’t manage to get a photo.

Eventually, hunger and logic dictated that it was time for dinner. We invited Mike and Susie over to our condo for the ceviche, which I served over avocado halves, with a glass of Twisted pinot grigio. Does a lemony wine go well with a lemony dish, or is that too much lemon?

Dinner

In retrospect perhaps ceviche wasn’t such a great choice. The idea of eating fish that hasn’t been cooked with heat is not appealing to everyone. I’m just not 100% sure what my in-laws thought of this dish. But I couldn’t resist that fresh grouper, and the end result was frankly delicious if I do say so myself.

Friday Dry

When my in-laws asked what time we should leave, I said 7AM, and they laughed, and my father-in-law suggested 9AM. Then it was my turn to laugh, quietly, to myself. In my mind I thought 10AM, but I didn’t take that too seriously either. When facing up to a long journey, I like to get an early start. If left to my own devices, I would probably leave at dawn. But fortunately or otherwise I am not left to my own devices. I am subject to the devices of others. Years of experience have taught me that fixating on an departure time is a losing proposition, unless there’s a plane to catch.

In the end we rolled out at 9:45AM which was fine by me. All five of us fit into our Ford Escape Hybrid. As soon as we got on the highway we determined that Xy had indeed forgotten the Scrabble game, but we didn’t turn back. Soon we were crossing the twin spans. Soon we were driving through Mississippi. Soon we were plowing through that cool tunnel beneath Mobile, Alabama. Soon we were in the Florida panhandle.

And did we drive on in stony silence? We did not. We were rocking out to a mix of cover songs I’d thrown together. Here is a sampling of the music we enjoyed, ten tracks including tunes by Caetano Veloso, Cash Nexus, and My Summer as a Salvation Soldier. They are all covers.

The title of this mix is an anagram. I was turned on to all these tracks via the late great Copy, Right? music blog by Liza Pavelich (as seen on ROX). Coincidentally it’s her birthday today.

We went 440 miles that first day. That landed us in the quaint burg of Madison, Florida. Actually I’m only guessing at its quaintness. In point of fact we never actually set foot in the town proper. We stayed at the Best Western, conveniently located near the interstate exit.

Since there were five of us in one vehicle, we made an effort to travel light. I did not pack, for example, any booze. It should therefore come as no surprise that Madison County is one of only five “dry” counties in the state of Florida. I always thought “dry” meant no alcohol whatsoever, but in this case beer and wine were legal. We were able to run to the truckstop across the way and pick up as much beer as we could possibly want. I noticed they had beverages with Smirnoff and Bacardi and other famous spirits, but upon closer examination, these all seemed to be malt beverages — in other words, flavored beer without a trace of vodka or rum. Weird. I made the highly questionable decision to pick up a big can of Sparks and an even bigger can of Tilt.

Best Western Rewards

Man — chilling poolside at a hotel in a dry county in the Deep South drinking a damn Sparks. If you haven’t done this, you should try it some time. It really puts things in some kind of perspective.

Sparks and Tilt are examples of a beverage category of which I had been blissfully ignorant. They’re called alcopops, “malt beverages to which various fruit juices or other flavorings have been added.” In retrospect, I wish I’d remained ignorant. Those things were nasty. I also regret that we didn’t at least take a curiosity cruise through Madison. That hotel by the interstate is exactly the kind of non-place that I so intensely despise with every fiber of my being. The only cool thing about being there was the cow pasture out back. Persephone had just remarked a few days earlier that she’d never seen a cow in real life, so she was fascinated.

And the next morning, when we went out to visit the cows again, we got a special treat.

Ostrich Sighting

Ostrich

Yes, it’s an ostrich. Or at least I think it is. A big flightless bird anyway.

We were joined at the fence by another hotel guest, a farmer from one of the Carolinas. It had rained on Friday night, but he wondered if Florida was suffering from the same dry spell as they’d been having in his neck of the woods. He observed the quality of the grass, and the low level of water in a pond in the cow pasture, and he concluded that indeed they were having a drought here, just as we’d been having in New Orleans.

After breakfast at the hotel, we got on the road again. Only 300 miles to Vero. The drive was uneventful, except for one thing. We were on the Florida Turnpike, a toll highway with limited access; we were going to make a pit stop at a service plaza but I missed the exit. So we took the next next exit, which landed us right in the middle of Orlando. (The Mall at Millenia to be precise.) We ended up eating lunch at one of the most upscale McDonald’s I’ve seen. I was impressed by the sanitary door openers in the restrooms. These were little hooks that allowed you to open the door with your wrist so you didn’t have to touch the knob with your hand. Fancy. It’s always interesting to see how the other half lives.

Thursday Off

Posting has been a little thin here lately, for good reason: I’ve been on vacation. My plan now is to back up in time and recreate these ten days in excruciating detail. So here we go. My in-laws rolled into town on Wednesday, June 15, but my vacation officially began the next day, when I took Thursday off.

Tearing It Up

My vacation got off to a cracking good start with these guys ripping up our sidewalk. They actually dug a smaller hole the day before, then came back on Thursday morning with bigger equipment for further excavations. Something to do with the gas line to the house next door, which is under renovation. (Eleven days later, the hole is still there.) I am hopeful that the repair include their crumbling driveway and that the whole situation will end better than it was before. Still, I’m a little irked cuz we just had that concrete poured nine months ago.

My first order of business for the day: a fresh haircut, which I got at my new barber shop, Loose Endz.

Haircut

When I posted this photo online, I got an immediate reaction from my academic mentor, Thom G.:

Editor B I sure hope you aren’t paying someone for that hair cut. If it ain’t a Sears hedge and hair trimmer you been robbed. 😎

Ouch, Thom, you really know how to hurt a guy. Personally I was quite happy with the cut. I now felt ready for the beach.

But, of course, there was some more business to take care of before our departure. Xy insisted that we needed to run by the grocery, despite the fact that we would be hitting the road the next morning.

A fool’s errand, I thought. So naturally I volunteered.

I hopped on the bike. On the way to the store I took a gander at the Lafitte Corridor. I like to give it a look whenever I can, and I’ve been taking particular note of the section of the future greenway where the Mid-City Market is planned. It’s not looking too good. Some of the weeds are higher than my head, and junk is piling up at an alarming rate.

Red Couch

So that makes how many couches here now? Plus a gas tank and a lot of tires. Someone is using the greenway site as their personal dumping ground. All I know is the red couch wasn’t there a week earlier.

Back at home, my mother-in-law was unpacking a few heirlooms. We inherited a deluxe crucifix from Xy’s late grandmother Pauline. I quickly added it to our collection.

Crucifix Fest

This model features holy water and hosts in the secret compartment. (It’s my hope that having all these Catholic icons on display in our kitchen will inoculate Persephone against her coming year of Catholic school. With all respect due the Magisterium, there are certain dogmata down with which I cannot get. I don’t know if they touch on these in Pre-K3 but I’ll be monitoring the situation.)

That evening we went to Crescent Pie & Sausage for a fabulous dinner. I think this is one of the best restaurants in the city right now, and it’s just across the street. I’d love to eat there more frequently, but our budget don’t allow. Here’s my daughter and my father-in-law enjoying the mac & cheese and the mixed grill respectively.

Crescent Pie & Sausage

I had some sort of tomato and okra tart, a special, which was extraordinary.

Though we were sitting inside, they do have a large porch and ample outdoor seating. I noticed a jar suspended from a string, an elegant variation on the old plastic baggie trick.

Jar

We can see our house from their front porch. We could see our house from our table by the window, for that matter. Midway through dinner we saw a distinctive red truck pull up in front of our house. I ran out and said hi to DJ and snapped this picture.

DJ

He was dropping off a package of hair bands for Persephone.

What else? I guess that was it. So ended my first day of vacation. More to come!

Cloudy with a Chance of Tarballs

Emerald Coast

Many months ago, we booked a condo in Panama City Beach, Florida. (I should say, my mother-in-law booked the place. We consulted, but it was my in-laws’ dime.) This was well before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, long before oil started gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say of all the anguish caused by this disaster, my family vacation plans do not factor prominently. Yet still I worried about it. News reports indicated no oil there — until about a week before our trip. A piece of the Deepwater Horizon rig washed up on the beach there. And then came reports of tarballs. In the final days before our departure, I was reading up on public health advisories, effects of dispersant chemicals on toddlers, varying accounts of the situation on the ground (or in the water) in Panama City Beach, and all manner of online monitoring sites. It was maddeningly difficult, impossible really, to come to any kind of conclusion.

I decided if we saw tarballs we would keep our daughter out of the Gulf waters. Dispersant is not so easily detected by the human eye, of course. Once we got there, we found the water crystal clear. I scouted for tarballs constantly but never saw one.

In the end, it turns out I needn’t have worried so much. I think our girl spent no more than an hour in actual contact with the waters of the Gulf for a variety of reasons. On the morning of our first full day there, Xy took her down to the beach and was holding her when a wave knocked her down. That scared Persephone and she preferred the pool from that point forward. Later in the week the waves got increasingly rough as Hurricane Alex churned through the Gulf, and the water was closed for swimming anyway.

We had a great time regardless.

Here are some other random notes.

It’s just over 300 miles from NOLA to PCB. This was our first long trip in the hybrid vehicle, and I was curious to see how it performed. It took less than a tank of gas to get there, and we got about 30 miles per gallon.

We stayed at the Wyndham. I’m sure I’m not the first person to gaze skeptically upon all those highrise beachfront resorts, but you can’t beat a balcony looking over the ocean. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a two-bedroom accommodation so my in-laws were in a separate condo not far from ours, but it worked out all right.

We were there for six full days, bookended by two half-days for arrival and departure — a week. Of those six full days, two were sunny and spectacular, two were overcast with a little rain, and two had heavy rain. (Thanks Alex.)

I took almost 400 photos. I’ve posted a set of the best on Flickr. (Friends and family see more.)

Internet connectivity was problematic and aggravating. I took a laptop from work, which I hooked up to Ethernet in our condo. I enjoyed unfettered net access for two days — and then it just stopped working for no apparent reason. The problem was not the Ethernet but the laptop I was using. A couple guys on the staff came out and tried to troubleshoot but ultimately we were unsuccessful. So I used the wifi network, in a common area not far from our condo, but that proved unreliable as well. The network had a tendency to disappear suddenly for no apparent reason, leaving me disconnected. Thus I was unable to participate in the “Contemplative Neuroscience” webinar which was my ostensible reason for bringing the laptop in the first place.

I finished reading On Blue’s Waters and and started In Green’s Jungles.

I called the front desk and they sent up a pack-n-play crib where Persephone slept comfortably most of the time. On her first night she was restless and ended up in our bed while I moved out to the couch. (I needn’t have bothered as the king-sized mattress was big enough for the three of us.) She had a nightmare one other night, but the rest of the time she was happy to sleep in “little bed.”

We missed the Hands Across the Sands event, alas. We could have walked there.

My friend MAD, who used to live in PCB, recommended a number of local venues. We only went out to eat one night, and we tried a couple waterfront places he mentioned but the lines were way too long for us. We ended up at Scampy’s which proved to be quite delicious. There was no wait for dining on the patio, which I found incredible. Who wants to sit in a dark dining room on beautiful summer evening?

Our friends DJ, Daisy and Lavender joined us for the last two nights. I didn’t think they were going to make it, but they got there just in time for the worst of the Alex weather. Then they stayed a couple nights after we left at a hotel.

My mother-in-law Susie cooked all the major meals. Actually Xy did cook grits and grillades one night. I meant to prepare stuffed peppers but I forgot my recipe and Susie ended up doing that as well. I probably gained some weight on this vacation.

Another contributing factor: We went through one bottle each of Averna, Bombay Sapphire, St. Germain, Hennessy and Limoncello, plus half a bottle of Amaretto and some wine and beer. Key cocktails: Vertigo, Extended Roman Holiday, Horse’s Neck, St. Germain & Soda, and the good old gin & tonic (with and without St. Germain).

My favorite moment of the whole trip was when Persephone and I built a sand castle on the beach one evening. She was crushing towers as quickly as I could build them, until I managed to get a couple up in quick succession. Suddenly she got the idea — this could be a place where Cinderella might live. Soon she was helping me build the walls, and before you knew it we had a most, a tunnel, a bridge, and a domed ballroom. It didn’t look like much to be honest, but in our eyes it was a palace.

Getting back to my original concern, I want to re-emphasize that I never saw a single tarball. There’s probably a good deal of variation up and down the beach, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. I also want to be clear that I think environmental issues are of primary importance to us all. I wouldn’t want to discount concerns about what’s happening in the Gulf right now. I believe it’s a crisis of epic proportions.

Obviously we must be on guard against paranoia. When the water was closed to swimming and a plane came by dragging a banner that said “STAY OUT OF THE GULF” it was hard not to feel alarmed. My father-in-law spoke to another guest at the resort who was sure the closure was oil-related — yet I am certain it was because of the weather.

Which is not to say that there was no oil. There’s a persistent trough of foam that develops between the first and second set of breaks. My mother-in-law said she thought it looked funny, sort of discolored, toward the later half of our stay, and she suspected it was because of oil. I was skeptical, but when Daisy arrived she said the same thing, and she’s a geologist after all. So who knows, maybe there was something to that.

And as far as I know you can’t see dispersant, and no one is testing for it, and no one really knows how dangerous it might be to humans. But that Corexit stuff BP was using was banned in the UK.

All of which gets back to my original point about the difficulty of getting truly reliable information about what’s going on out there. We can only make good decisions if we have good information, but there’s very few sources that I trust anymore.

Up in the Air

Notes from Sevier County

I wrote most of the following last week when I was up north, but wasn’t able to finish it until now.

I’ve spent the last week or so in a timeshare condo in Sevierville, Tennessee.

It’s a curious place. Or perhaps I should say it’s a curious non-place, in a strangely transmogrified town, surrounded by the beautiful Smoky Mountains.

The condo itself is fairly nice. Two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a fully functional kitchen, nice living room, and of course a balcony. No timeshare condo is complete without a balcony.

However, this balcony looks out over a five-lane highway.

Five Lanes

It’s got sidewalks on either side which end abruptly for no apparent reason. And that’s where the trouble begins.

I’ve stayed in a few timeshares over the years thanks to the generosity of my in-laws. (As a friend once put it, “You didn’t know you were marrying into timeshare, did you?”) The price is always right, essentially free to Xy and me. I’m sure I’d be much more critical if I was footing the bill, but I’m not, so I’m not, as a rule. I’ve learned that not all timeshares are created equal. They vary quite a bit in terms of quality and amenities. Generally speaking, as long as we have easy access to a swimming pool, Xy is happy. And when Xy is happy, I am happy.

This resort (Wyndham Smoky Mountains) is composed of 30-odd buildings, each containing 16-24 condos, with the aforementioned five-lane highway running between them.

Condos

There are two recreation centers, with indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, kiddie pools, fitness facilities and more. Neither rec center is very far from our condo unit, as the crow flies. Certainly they are both well within what most people would consider walking distance.

And yet, it’s virtually impossible for us to walk safely to either one. To get to the Greenbrier Amenities Center, we have to cross that damned five-lane highway. There is no stoplight, not even a painted crosswalk.

Xing

Very well then, surely we’d do better to stay on our side of the highway and go to the Elkmont Amenities Center. It’s atop a high hill and offers a fairly nice view of the surroundings. But as far as I can ascertain it is simply not possible to walk there. As absurd as it may seem, one has to get in the car and drive.

Pedestrian Unfriendly

It’s a well-known fact that I’m not a big fan of automobiles. But even if I was, I’d like to think that I’d still recognize the importance of walking. It’s our most primal form of transportaion. Walking is pleasant and just plain fundamentally human. Even people who can’t walk generally benefit from an approach to design and planning that emphasizes walkability. (My spellchecker doesn’t recognize “walkability” as a word, but then again my spellchecker doesn’t recognize “spellchecker” as a word either.) Places that are designed to actively discourage walking strike me as fundamentally inhuman. Of all the timeshares in which I’ve stayed, I’ve never before seen one so hostile to the pedestrian, and that troubles me.


One of the biggest criticisms one might lodge against timeshares is that they can be pretty profoundly divorced from the surrounding area. Thus they can have a sense of being a generic non-place. It doesn’t have to be that way, but often it is. However, in this case, I’m afraid that the timeshare has captured the ambiance of the area perfectly. Sevierville is just as unfriendly to the pedestrian as our resort. Choked with factory-outlet strips malls, the main drag bears a striking resemblance to the shopping district of Greenwood, Indiana, where I grew up, cross-pollinated with an amusement park. And I’ve gotta tell you, it ain’t pretty.

There is a town here. I’m sure of it. I’ve read about it. (I even caught a glimpse of a beautiful courthouse as we departed.) Apparently Sevierville was a hotbed of abolitionist activity before the Civil War. (Though now the Confederate flag seems to be more popular.) Apparently Dolly Parton was born here. I wonder what she thinks of the place today. I wonder what the people who live and work here think. It seems abundantly clear to me that somewhere along the line something went wrong. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at first. I’m sure it seemed like wise economic development. People accuse New Orleans of prostituting itself to the tourist economy, but we can’t hold a candle to this area. The end result is, quite frankly, horrifying and sad.

Yet at the same time I have to recognize that not everybody shares my perspective. To judge by the thronging masses, huge numbers of people would seem to find this a desirable place to be. And so I’ve spent some time wondering about that disconnect. Why do I see things differently, am I in the majority or minority, and what does it all mean?

I don’t know.


Continue up the highway to Pigeon Forge, the town next door, and you get more of the same, only it’s more spectacular. You can even catch a glimpse of an honest-to-gosh historic district off to the side, “The Old Mill,” if you are not completely bedazzled by all the animated video billboards. (Even the cheap hotels have them.) It takes a long while to drive just a few miles because there’s such a lot of traffic.

Keep driving. At last the town ends, and the highway snakes through a wooded area beside a stream. Signs might lead you to believe you’ve entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but you’re not quite there yet. First you have to pass through Gatlinburg.

Unlike Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Gatlinburg was clearly built with pedestrians in mind. It’s still as hoaky and kitschy as all get out, but at least it doesn’t seem hostile and inhuman. It’s more surreal, or perhaps I should say more hyperreal.

Jean Baudrillard, recently deceased French theoretician, devoted much of his career to explain what he called “hyper-reality”–evidently a reality above reality, fantasy qua reality. This hyper-reality is especially well illustrated in Baudrillard’s schema of the procession of the simulacra, wherein in a sign mirrors basic reality, begins to distort it but nevertheless remains faithful to the original, departs heavily from reality, and finally exists instead of reality (the basic reality no longer exists). Baudrillard could have written this work on a single visit to Pigeon Forge.

Personally I found Gatlinburg a bit more charming than Sevierville or Pigeon Forge, but there’s no accounting for taste. Gatlinburg is a lot like Disneyworld, only less completely contrived and engineered, and with a bit more chaos. It almost looks like a genuine urban space if you look at it with your eyes half-shut.

As noted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

High-powered, high-volume tourism has transformed [the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge] communities into amusement parks. Both towns feature factory outlet stores, wax museums, souvenir shops, go-cart racing, and theme parks. As portals to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are perhaps the country’s best examples of gateway communities completely transformed by tourism.

If you keep on driving through Gatlinburg, you will find yourself almost abruptly in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Wow. What a contrast. It’s beautiful and quiet and more or less pristine, and quite vast. Of course nine or ten million people do visit the park every year, so it can be crowded, but nothing like the throngs playing miniature golf in Pigeon Forge. Take a few steps down a nature trail, and you’ll find yourself in virtual solitude.

Mountain Haze

They say the haze that hangs over the mountains these days is not the mist for which they were named, but pollution from power plants, industry, and — of course — automobiles.

Our autocentric culture is not healthy. Which leads me back to my gloomy reflections on the pedestrian-hostile layout of our resort and Sevierville and Pigeon Forge and Greenwood and so many places.


It was my hope with these notes to capture something of the feeling of distress which this area has evoked within me, and at the same time to avoid condescending arrogance, to reconcile my contempt with my compassion. I feel I have failed on all counts. Cataloging the discontents of modern American culture is a tall order, and I’ve only been able to peck away at this entry between changing diapers and driving to the pool. This visit has reminded me of many feelings that have lain dormant for years. Living in New Orleans entails quite a different set of contingencies. This visit takes me back to my youth in suburban Indianapolis.

Having failed to capture the bigger issues, perhaps I can at least enumerate some of our activities.

  • Saturday: Upon arrival we unpacked and then went out to Mr. Gatti’s. With all due respect to my in-laws who seemed to enjoy the place, this was amongst the worst dining experiences of my life. The all-you-can-eat pizza buffet is just a bad idea. Apparently they often have a live music/gospel puppet performance, but not that evening, though I did snap a photo of this kiosk which hints at what we were missing. The food was not good, and the atmosphere was nauseating. The only redeeming quality was that our girl was able to run around (barefoot) and nobody cared. I’m not sure if that’s really a plus.
  • Sunday: Summer Solstice, and Father’s Day. I celebrated by bleaching my hair. I used the remnants of a kit that had been sitting on our bathroom shelf for eight years. The results were not very dramatic. In fact, I’d say it didn’t do much at all but bring out the gray in my hair. Ah well.
  • Monday: I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. I got in the car and drove to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I dragged my father-in-law along with me. I was somewhat astonished to learn that neither of my in-laws had ever set foot in the park despite coming to this area for years. We made our way through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (slow going) to the Sugarlands Welcome Center, where we saw a film about the park. We then hiked a nature trail nearby, a short one-mile loop. Very enjoyable. I considered this a scouting expedition — I was trying to discern what part of the park might be good to visit with an infant in tow. I talked to a ranger about it. Which led us to…
  • Tuesday:  The whole family went on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This seemed like a good option for a one-year old. You drive a bit, then stop at key locations, get out, enjoy the scenery and learn a little bit about the local ecology.

    Waterfall

    The fatal flaw in this plan was that Xy had a migraine and the twisty turny road made her quite carsick. Also my mother-in-law’s car got scraped against a rock. My father-in-law was behind the wheel, but I swear that rock just lunged out at us. It became a point of contention for the remainder of the trip. But it really was a beautiful drive. On the way back we stopped at Happy Days Diner, where Persephone had a coughing fit. A passing waitress inquired, “Are you choking?” and a short while later asked “Are you still choking?” a line which we repeated often in the days that followed. Guess you had to be there.

  • Wednesday: We visited Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo, which was almost in walking distance from our condo but of course we had to drive. It’s kind of unsettling to see a bunch of exotic animals from faraway places cooped up in small cages to be ogled by marauding church camps. But perhaps it’s not such a bad life — they have their meals provided after all. We watched a presentation by a naturalist who performed magic tricks and told scatological jokes. Did you know diarrhea is hereditary? It runs in your genes! My daughter picked out a gift from the shop: a baby tiger wrapped in a blanket, equipped with a bottle for nursing. She took right to it. She calls it “baby” (her second two-syllable word) and feeds it the bottle without any prompting. Almost spooky to me.
  • Thursday: Anxious for a change of pace, I took the girl on a car trip in search of Pittman Center. This was a nearby town cited by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, so I figured it would have to be at least halfway cool. I plotted a route which kept me away from the trafficky madness of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. A beautiful drive. I found Pittman Center eventually, and pulled up right in front of City Hall. In fact, City Hall was about all I could identify as being part of a town. (Population 477 in 2000 census.) An employee looked out her window at me, so close we could almost have talked except for the glass. I wanted to go in and ask for direction to any points of interest. But the girl had fallen asleep in her car seat, and I didn’t want to disturb her. So I just drove around for a while and then made my way back to the condo. By that time the rest of the family had left on a shopping expedition to the World’s Largest “As Seen on TV” Superstore, and so I spent several happy hours playing together with my daughter. She’s growing so fast now it’s like I can see her developing on an hourly basis.
  • Friday: My father-in-law got sick. It sucks to be sick on vacation, but at least it was only that one last day. He was well enough to drive back home the next morning. Thus ended our sojourn together.

Also should note: Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout is a pretty good beer. It’s brewed with milk! Or milk sugar, anyway. Lactose. It’s dark with almost a burnt coffee flavor. I always like to sample the local brew, and this was the closest I could find, though actually upon further research I discovered that Farmville NC is some 400 miles away. Anyway you gotta love a beer with a logo inspired by Wittgenstein.

And finally a shout-out to my mother-in-law, who cooked just about every meal we ate there. Big hearty breakfasts and tasty dinners. I probably packed on a few extra pounds, but it sure beat eating out. Not only is it economical, but our daughter is probably at the worst possible age for going to restaurants. So major props to the stalwart Susie for her tireless efforts in the kitchen. And thanks to both my in-laws for sharing their condo with us. Despite all the kvetching above I really did enjoy myself.

Vacation

I took a vacation last week. Nope, didn’t leave the Greater New Orleans area. I’m afraid this was another vacation in the head, and as usual it was a soul-shattering experience. I mean that in a good way. I’m back at work now, trying to reassemble my personality into something vaguely recognizable. My parents are in town! But I haven’t seen them yet. Hopefully tonight.

Wednesdays Off

I’m taking Wednesdays off this month to work on the house. One of my co-workers was mildly astonished. He’d much prefer to take a vacation day on a Monday or Friday, thus extending his weekend. I like taking Wednesday off because it breaks the work week nicely. Two days on, one day off, two days on, two days off… I could get used to that. “The two-day work week.” I think I’ll patent the idea.

Staining the Stairs

I’m taking some vacation days. Combined with the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s a whole week off work. That gives me time to do this:

Staining the Stairs

I’m staining a bunch of trim, six windows and a staircase. Even though I’m cutting every corner I can imagine, this is still a big job. Rising early, working late, I just might get it done. My current goal is to finish the staining before Thanksgiving and concentrate on varnishing after the holiday.

Some vacation, huh? But I am striving to maintain a celebratory mindset.

The big fan is coming in handy for exhausting fumes from the house and keeping our living space livable. A good friend warned me that stain-soaked rags pose a spontaneous combustion hazard, so I submerge ’em in water at the end of the day.

Xy thinks it’s all going too smoothly. She predicts I will kick a can of stain over and ruin the floor, or some other comparable disaster.

Vero

I ran a screen of partially pre-written posts last week because Xy and I were on vacation.

Herewith, a brief memoir of our week in Vero Beach, Florida.

We arrived (after driving thru Tropical Storm Barry) at the tail end of a love bug swarm. Supposedly these insects are prolific all along the Gulf Coast, but I’ve never been aware of them. What curious creatures they are. They fly around joined together, looking like a single bug with two heads. They don’t bite or sting, but they do dirty up your windshield.

Love Bugs on Saturn

Some say this was the biggest swarm in recent memory. Despite the lore that an active love bug season predicts an active hurricane season, we took their presence as a good omen. They’re called “love bugs” because they spend their entire adult lives copulating.

Love Bugs in Silhouette

We did our best to emulate them.

We stayed at the Driftwood. In a world of cookie-cutter development, the Driftwood stands out as a unique place, dare I say an authentic place. (Edit: No, I dare not say “authentic.” That word is too much abused. But the Driftwood has character.) The first buildings were constructed in the 1930s in an eclectic beachcomber style, of driftwood and shipwrecks and odd bits of junk from around the world.

Driftwood

The genius behind the Driftwood is a local legend, a man named Waldo Sexton. He was a fellow Hoosier. Despite graduating from Purdue University (class of 1911), he seems to have turned out alright. He certainly left his mark on Vero.

For example, Sexton was instrumental in creating the McKee Jungle Gardens, which became a huge tourist attraction back in the 1940s. With the advent of the interstate highways and the opening of a certain amusement park in nearby Orlando, the Gardens fell on hard times. It was closed, sold off, and mostly redeveloped. However, a portion of the original gardens survived and has been restored as the McKee Botanical Gardens. Definitely worth a visit.

Seductive

But we didn’t do much sight-seeing. For the most part we just played on the beach and swam in the ocean. Xy and I both love the ocean. When we weren’t swimming in it we were walking alongside it. We saw plenty of pelicans. One night we saw a large horseshoe crab in the surf, about the size of my head. We didn’t see any dolphins or sharks or manatees, alas. Then again, I don’t really want to see a shark when swimming in the ocean.

It was relaxing, refreshing, and delightfully boring.

Ocean View

Actually there were a few moments of unwelcome excitement. One night we were dining at the Ocean Grille (another creation of the prolific Waldo Sexton) and the restaurant was struck by lightning just as our entrees were served. No one was hurt but the thunderclap was frightening.

The other incident came later that night, about 3:00 AM, when someone knocked on our door. It was a very apologetic young man who claimed to be a fellow guest and was obviously in some distress. As his story unfolded, however, it became more confusing and contradictory. It seemed he needed gas for his car. You will marvel at my stupidity, O Reader, but I actually accompanied him to his car and we drove to the Seven-11 together. I wasn’t thinking clearly because I was half asleep, but my rationale seemed to be that I thought he was scamming for cash and I wanted to call his bluff. Sure enough, when I got ready to gas up his car, it turned out he didn’t want gas at all, just money. In the end I gave him $20, the only cash I had on me. He swore he was going to pay me back Friday. (Of course, he didn’t.)

But my encounter with Ellis from Connecticut did little to diminish my joy. This was our first real vacation since Katrina. I think we’ll have to make a point of getting away with more frequency in the future.

Vero got hit by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004. Walking along the beach one couldn’t help but notice that most of the buildings were still gutted and vacant, many under repair, others apparently just sitting there. I wonder if the beach would have been more crowded if all those buildings were open for business. In any case, the scenes of destruction and recovery made us feel right at home.

Postscript: Forgot to add one little geeky gotcha that may help somebody out. Upon arrival in Vero, I set my Blackberry to the Eastern time. Later in the week, we went to attend a nature walk and missed it because we arrived one hour late. How did this happen? Because the Blackberry is “smart” enough to shift all my calendar appointments one hour. It assumes that those appointments were made in Central time — which was true, except for that nature walk, which I’d entered in Eastern time before making the switch. So… beware.

I’m Back

I took two weeks off. During that time I barely left Orleans Parish, except for a couple errands. I rode my bike into Metairie via Veteran’s Boulevard. Don’t ever try that; you’re taking your life into your own hands with the traffic and the lack of any provision for bicycles. Mostly, I spent most of my time at home or in the surrounding few blocks.

And yet, despite my geographical stasis, this was an odyssey of epic proportions. A spiritual odyssey. Hell, that trip to Metairie felt like an epic journey, but that’s a story for another day. I encountered a broken lamp post on Veteran’s Boulevard:

Broken Streetlamp

It was an icon of things to come. The whole excursion to the suburbs was really only a prelude to a descent into the Abyss of the Self. I feel like I’ve been torn down and put back together over the past fifteen days.

I’ve heard plenty about the stresses we’re under here, how we’re all on edge in this devastated region, how our mental health is fragile. Personally, though, I’ve felt pretty good. After all, only half our house was destroyed, we didn’t lose any loved ones, we still have our jobs, we are actually living in our home, we had adequate insurance coverage and no real hassles with our insurer, we are working with a contractor we know and trust to renovate our home, and our neighborhood appears to be coming back in some form. In short, we count ourselves lucky. And happy. And healthy.

And yet. Since returning to New Orleans I’ve been extraordinarily busy, not just at work, but going to all sorts of neighborhood and community meanings. Everything around here is broken, and it all needs to be fixed simultaneously, so the impulse is to pour all one’s heart and soul into every aspect of rebuilding. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are living in very weird, stressful, screwed up circumstances. By keeping so busy, might we be neglecting our own psychic needs? Could it be a form of escapism, a way of not having to deal with reality?

Of course, civic over-involvement is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other escape strategies. Case in point, on my way back from that ill-advised bike ride, I stopped for lunch at the Bulldog on Canal Boulevard. Two guys came in and ordered a pair of Irish Car Bombs with beer chasers. They had to drink ’em fast to get back to work.

I’ve been doing things like that too, though not quite as extreme. Yet these escapes may not be effective. They may not be escapes at all, but dead ends, traps.

Lakewood Corner

Without time to pause and reflect, who’s to say?

In retrospect it feels like that is what my “vacation” was really about. I took some time off from most of my daily routines and gave myself some room for reflection, contemplation, rumination, and other Latinate words that end with “-tion.”

What I found was not always pretty. There’s a lot of weird, stressful, screwed up stuff going on inside. I think this became most evident when I engaged in a creative writing project of sorts: I decided to spend a little time each morning writing down my dreams. Not the dreams I had when I was asleep, mind you, (though I did keep a dream journal back in the early ’90s) but waking dreams, daydreams, the thoughts and fantasies and speculations running through my head. Most of my writing lately has gone into very straightforward journaling (like this blog) and I thought it would be good to spend some time writing down my dreams instead. But I was surprised at how dark and depressing these dreams turned out to be. I’ve always had a morbid streak, but damn. The fear of aging and death and dying kept coming up again and again.

Again, twisted dreams are just the tip of the iceberg. Aside from these writing experiments I had some plain-old blues. And (mild) anxiety attacks. And sleepless nights. And so forth. Changing up my routine brought a lot of personal issues to the surface. These aren’t Katrina issues per se, not for me anyway. A lot of it is good old-fashioned existential angst, the dues we pay for being alive. But Katrina has provided many excuses to let these issues fester and take on a decidedly unpleasant odor.

I was surprised, but not shocked. Any journey into the Self is bound to have some difficult twists and turns. Of course, recognizing fears and problems is the first step to confronting them. These developments were incredibly positive in my mind. Yes, there are cracks in my foundation, fissures in the edifice of my soul, but I’m working on it.

A cautionary note to my fellow travelers: Make sure you deal with this stuff before it deals with you. The holidays are approaching and stress levels will be on the rise. Don’t forget to attend to your spiritual well-being, whatever that entails.

Lest this all seems too too heavy and hopelessly confused, here’s some other things from my vacation:

  • Halloween:

    Dry Ice

    We had maybe eight or ten kids come by, and one even wore a costume. Xy got some dry ice (from the local Airgas) for a science lesson at school, then brought the leftovers home for spooky yet educational experiments on our front porch.

  • Alexis and Loki’s wedding was the coolest.

    Alexis and Loki

    (photo by Maitri)

    The highlight for me was hearing Sandra Dolby sing. You can hear some of her music here, unfortunately limited to 30 second samples from a CD that appears to be sold out, but it gives a notion of how haunting and beautiful her voice and guitar are. The CD is for her mother, but the songs at the wedding were for her daughter, who just happens to be Alexis.

  • I voted.
  • I took Milo and Biggs to the vet.

    Boxed

    They didn’t like being boxed up, but they were extraordinarily well-behaved when they got there.

  • I spent five hours at the Saturn dealership on the West Bank while they worked on our car. At least it gave me time to finish up Justina Robson’s Living Next Door to the God of Love.
  • I went to some planning and community meetings. Yes, even on vacation. I can’t stop myself. I told you I had issues. In fact they seemed to ramp up to two a night instead of just one.

    Milwaukee's Finest

    At one meeting I heard John Norquist extol the virtues of tearing down inner city interstates. (But at least the Monday night Mid-City Recovery Planning meetings have come to an end.)

  • I cleaned up my home office and rearranged our living room. Doesn’t sound like much, but the mess in my office was years in the making. Cleaning that up was a spiritual experience in and of itself. But like most profound spiritual experiences, it’s totally boring to anyone else but fascinating to me.
  • I visited Xy’s school and videotaped some girls doing a song they wrote to send to a class in New York City… it’s a long story, but I’ll post the video eventually, when it’s edited. What was really cool was I got to see Xy teaching and she is definitely at the top of her game.
  • I went to see Mark Mothersbaugh‘s “Beautiful Mutants” show with MaPó at l’Art Noir in the Bywater.

And to round it all out, since I can no longer aspire to brevity, here’s the latest article on our renovation by Stephanie Bruno, which appeared in Saturday’s paper with a very nice photo.

WASHING AND WARMING AND WAITING
Saturday, November 11, 2006
By Stephanie Bruno
Contributing writer

NOTE: In the weeks since we have visited Bart Everson and Christy Paxson in their Mid-City home, work has been on hold while the couple’s trusted contractor completed other jobs. But the advent of windy, cooler nights finally prompted the couple to call, and now their contractor is poised to return.

At 6-foot-4, Bart Everson might seem like an unlikely candidate to enjoy tub baths. But one of his Top 10 criteria when shopping for a house with his wife, Christy Paxson, was a roomy claw-foot tub, and that’s one of the many advantages that the house on North Salcedo Street offered.

The house had a shower, too, but “our shower was in the basement, and that’s the area that filled with floodwaters,” Everson said. With work on repairing the couple’s downstairs living area suspended while contractor Mike Kaplan dealt with other clients’ needs, tub baths have been the only option.

“In fact, I prefer tub baths, but it depends on the season,” Everson said. “It’s been so long now since I’ve had a choice, I’ve almost forgotten. Oh, yes, it’s showers in the summer and baths in the winter. Slipping into a steaming tub of water on a hot summer day just isn’t that enjoyable.”

Everson contacted Kaplan recently and expects that work on the second bath as well as the guest room, laundry area and den, which also are downstairs, will soon resume.

“I know how busy Mike has been and how difficult it’s been to juggle jobs and help as many people as he could,” Everson said. “He’s like every other contractor in town in that he has also had to deal with an unstable labor force. So because our situation wasn’t as urgent as some others’, I held off calling him. I never doubted for a minute he’d be back sooner or later.”

“Sooner” started sounding a lot better than “later” a week or two ago, when a few windy cold fronts blew through town.

“At the time, there was no trim installed on the basement windows on the inside, so when the hard gusts ripped through, the windows would swing on their ropes and bang against the frames,” Everson said. “Let me tell you, it’s pretty spooky trying to sleep upstairs with those sudden loud crashes coming from the basement.”

The downstairs doors caused a similar problem. “They were in place but not secure, so this week I took vacation and have a list of things to get done on the house,” Everson said. “One was to buy knobs and deadbolts for the downstairs doors. We weren’t worried about the windows as a security risk, because they’re protected with sturdy burglar bars. But the doors needed attention, and now the new knobs and the dead bolts are in place, and we can sleep better at night.”

The couple has accepted a few more inconveniences while awaiting the return of their contractor. For one thing, their laundry area was in the basement, so they’ve been visiting the Laundromat since their return home last fall. For another, they have needed to use flashlights from time to time to see things upstairs in their living area.

“That’s because none of our ceiling lights work,” Everson said. “It’s not just a matter of bulbs, it’s the wiring. When Mike came last fall to work on the electrical and get us up and running, he worked from below to repair the wiring that goes to our base outlets and light switches upstairs. But the wiring for our overhead lights is all the old knob-and-tube, and we agreed it would be best to disconnect it from the system and then replace it. Without those overhead lights, it can get pretty dark upstairs, and sometimes flashlights are in order.”

Once Everson finally called Kaplan, the contractor committed to returning in a few weeks, which Everson translates as “after Thanksgiving,” a holiday Everson and Paxson plan to share with Kaplan and his wife.

On Kaplan’s return visit to the house, the wiring issues will be addressed and other critical items — like the freely swinging window sashes — tended to.

About the same time, Everson and Paxson expect to welcome to town their friend Joe Nickel [sic] from Missoula, Mont. Nickel is a journalist for the Missoula newspaper, a co-producer of Everson’s television show and also, as luck would have it, a tile setter.

“Joe is coming down to set the tile in our downstairs shower. We’ve been planning this ever since the storm, but now Joe’s wife is expecting, so he either comes now or it’s never.”

With the doors and windows secure, the contractor scheduled, and the tile setter almost en route, Everson has one more chore to tend to this week, a cleansing of sorts that he likens to a ritual.

“I’m going to clean the basement windows. It’s a little thing, but they are still covered in dirt that the flood waters left behind. I’m going to wash that all away.”

. . . . . . .

Stephanie Bruno can be reached at [email protected]

The picture for this article isn’t online, I don’t think, but it showed me washing one of the basement windows. It should be noted that I cleaned only one window, for the benefit of the photographer. Also, Mike isn’t married, and Xy will be visiting Bloomington for Thanksgiving. Also, J’s trip to New Orleans has been delayed until early January. And I’m proud to report they posted this article on the board at Bayou Coffee House.

Anyway, that was my vacation. Damn. Vacationing is hard work. So I’ve come back to the University for a while, just to give myself a break.

Vacation in the Head

Starting today, I’m on vacation. But I’m not going anywhere. Or perhaps I should say that any trips I take will be inside my own head. The point is I won’t be going to the office for a couple weeks or so. I haven’t had a vacation since campus reopened in January, and frankly I could use one. I need to get my head together. As I remarked to Michael at last night’s planning meeting, my whole life seems to revolve around establishing and breaking routines. I crave the structure of a routine but I also crave the freedom of breaking out when it gets stale. And I’m in a bit of a rut now. So I am taking a long trip to nowhere, going on an extended tour of my own personal headspace. If you don’t hear from me after two weeks, send out a search party.