Wednesday, September 27, 2006


(A day, night, and the day after)

No, it's not November 1st, though the true All Saints' Day is observed by many down here. Did you know that burying a statue of St Jude upside down in your backyard will get your house sold 1-2-3 ? Let's hear it for the patron saint of lost causes!

I've never seen so many people wearing black and gold in my life. Granted, the public school system (and some of the private schools, from what I saw at a local playground after school. Nothing like a little girl in a Saints cheerleader dress...) sent out flyers encouraging parents to send their young 'uns to school in the team colors(and, sadly, I spaced on that one, sending my son to school in navy blue), but there were adults on the streets in the colors, too. Local Fox News anchors had the colors on for the 5 o'clock news. There were loads of Saints jerseys of all sizes on people's backs, and all kinds of names, past and present: Brooks, Blake, Bush, McAllister, Horn, Williams...even Manning. The papa.

People began to party in the early hours of the morning on game day, and it didn't stop. We went over to Edie's house to watch the game, and fended off her constant voicing of the idea that we should go down to the Superdome after the game, or head to the Quarter afterwards. She'd already checked out the area around the Dome that morning. We are truly getting to be a bunch of old farts, Dan and I, or just responsible parents, because we begged off, citing my son's bedtime and Dan's need to get to work the next day as our primary reasons. Even as the game edged closer to halftime, Edie finally said that she couldn't go, after saying, "Let's go to the Quarter" one more time.

All I could picture as well was what the Quarter could be like during Mardi Gras or when the Super Bowl was being hosted - one long drunken debacle in which you'd better be on Esplanade Avenue or have called ahead to get a cab, else you will have to walk home in a stupor, alcohol-fueled or otherwise. The only difference would have been in the regalia. The year I was in the Quarter at Super Bowl weekend was when there were loads of Patriots fans and Green Bay cheeseheads walking the streets. Granted, it would have been nice to see all the black and gold in the area after what is arguably the most successful Saints home game in franchise history...but hey, we are now official party poopers, my hubby and I.

Then again, Edie in some ways is one, too, because she and her daughter ate a large amount of their Southwestern dip before we came to watch the show. Is it good etiquette for a party host to serve up a partially eaten dish to her guests? I ask you...

It was weird watching the game on ESPN. No Al Michaels. No John Madden. Just some good analysts, one color man still getting warmed up, and a helluva first game of the season for Monday Night Football to be broadcasting. This is Paul Tagliabue's gift to New Orleans, and I appreciate it immensely, as do other folks around here, including the Benson family, the owners of the team. Tom Benson has always been one of the reasons why the team hasn't done well here in years past...and he blames it on the city's lackluster support of the team, creating one vicious circle that gives everyone an excuse to do nothin'. I'm glad Tagliabue committed to keeping the team here as a symbol of renewal for a ruined city, because without that, Benson would have shipped the Saints outta here once the storm blew through. There was a lot of anti-Benson graffiti on trashed refrigerators and the like down here during the initial cleanup of this city. The jury's still out on him...time will tell.

Now if this town could just get more organizations to commit to conventions again. Not to mention more major industries and businesses to get the economy rolling again.

That's the trouble with the big events this city has. I must say that Poppy Z. Brite's 9-26 journal entry has got it right: see to see her "day after" entry.
We can certainly throw one hell of a party down here, but the hangover is crippling, especially at this time. I highly recommend Brite's Rickey and G-Man novels and stories, and right now, she is having a tough time of it all. Someone who is so adept at taking the pulse of this place and writing as well about it as she does in her recent fiction will feel deeply upset and depressed at what has been going on with it. Check out her Banned Books speech, delivered this past Sunday, on the link above. Telling Brite to "hang in there" just doesn't cut it, in my book...we need more tangible support in the rebuilding process, more results.

Then again, after reading Chris Rose's column in the Times-Pic about game day and night, it was pretty darn good to be in a place that knows how to party, and this city did need this. Human interest pieces during the game could show all the devastated neighborhoods they want, Tony Kornheiser could interview Spike Lee to his heart's content, and every superstar band, celebrity, and politician could show up, and the real star of the show would still be the fans who packed the Dome.

Because, damn it, we're all still here.

Can't get rid of New Orleans that easy...

Friday, September 22, 2006

I'm tired.

I'm tired of Katrina lit, to be exact.

My biggest beef in particular is with Douglas Brinkley's The Great Deluge. I have read other books by him and have read some that were edited by him. His "Majic Bus" approach to teaching his students about recent history and literature is an inspired approach that ought to be adopted by more instructors who have the resources and the wherewithal to mount similar tours across this country (and indeed, the world). But this last book of his is tarnished by the one thing that sticks out from his analyses of the happenings of the first five days of Katrina and its aftermath: the fact that Brinkley seems to have it in for Ray Nagin.

Granted, I am not a supporter of Mr Big Mouth either. Every time Nagin has the opportunity to speak, he puts his foot in a spectacularly idiotic manner. Public record will carry his stupidity through the ages. His reelection is a sad fact of life that we all have to make the best of, those of us who are here.

Maybe Brinkley's attitude is due to the fact that the book was rushed into publication. Lord knows there are a number of typos that should have been nipped in the bud before the book showed its cover in public. Perhaps subsequent editions of Deluge will work on the passages that dwell on the stuff Nagin did or did not do in such a way that shows the wrongheadedness of the mayor and not the vengeance of the author. I think about this book that I have in my home library now, though, and I have to question that impulse that Brinkley had to beat a dead horse in the way that he did.

I question that impulse because I myself have had that impulse many times as of late.

There is only so much I personally can take in terms of thinking about my current surroundings. And there's a lot to get down about. A few choice examples:

- traffic lights that are either not fixed yet, or have been fixed only to get run over by some drunkard or other ( OBJECTION! Speculation! sustained...) and then they remain broken for more long periods of time.

- nasty potholes. One in particular has gained a place in local infamy due to a mention by local columnist Chris Rose. This one at the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Calhoun streets is pretty darn deep, is surrounded by a few orange barrels to prevent car wrecks and pedestrian injuries, and has a huge shrub growing out of it, one that has the makings of a tree. Plus, it is right by Children's Hospital.

- school surroundings, supplies, what have you. My son's school faces onto a major thoroughfare that will have streetcars next year as well as regular car traffic running up and down it. A major issue at Open House was about the logistics of getting a class of twenty three- and four-year-olds to a bathroom that is located down the hall without their getting the temptation to go out the front door of the school and possibly through the open gate to the busy street beyond. There are major wish lists the teachers have compiled for their classrooms that have to do with basic furniture as well as teaching materials (not to mention basic stuff like a LOCK on said front gate), since they weren't relocated to their present school building until almost the last minute. Everyone is having to scramble.

I live with this a lot. As a result, I will be finishing Ivor van Heerden's book, The Storm, and then I will be swearing off the Katrina lit for some time. Maybe I should concentrate on some of my son's current reading material. Let's see:

The Runaway Bunny - A story about mother love. The little bunny of the title wants to get away from his mom, so he tells her he will become a number of things so that she won't find him: a fish, a crocus, a rock on a mountain. But mama's reach and imagination proves to be too much for her son. He decides to stay at home. Could this be an early psychological study into the mind of, say, Norman Bates?

Thomas the Tank Engine - Thomas is evereee-wheeere. His stories comes in parcels from Scholastic once a month. He resides in a coloring book and two push-button musical books my son has as gifts from others (I hope the batteries on the things run out soon). My son even has Thomas and Percy wooden trains and Bertie the bus, which are tres expensive and will not be joined by more wooden Thomas characters. What is Thomas representative of, really? I say OSHA's worst nightmare - there's always an accident on Sodor, or someone trying to push the envelope and getting slapped in the face by life, by gravity, by disaster. Sir Topham Hatt would have been hauled in to court long ago and either been fined out of business or locked away to rot in jail. Then again, I can't see Amtrak doing a better job of it...

Clifford the Big Red Dog - I love Clifford. Always have, always will. Though I do think it's sad to be seeing the PBS series and hearing the late John Ritter's voice coming from the big ol' pooch. Truth be told, though, Clifford is better off on the island - the Island of Doctor Moreau.

Allright, all right. I guess I should just swear off most books altogether. I've already sworn off the local paper. Harlequin romances, here I come...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Things these days seem to be lurching toward some form of on-the-edge normality.

I kind of shudder when I look at what I've just written, because normality here is insanity anywhere else. But I'm not sure how else to put it.

Let's get to the normal stuff first, because that's what everyone can relate to: Normal is dropping off and picking up my son from school each day. Walking the dog twice a day is normal. Cooking, cleaning, working on my cross stitch, blogging, checking email, calling our families regularly to check in, hanging with our friends - all normal. Preparing for my religious school class on the weekends is normal. Dan driving off to work and returning each day, even carpooling his way to and from Baton Rouge falls under normal. Volunteering at the local library counts as pretty normal. Getting the little guy fed, bathed and off to bed for the night is normal. In most places in this country, the stuff I just described is blissfully, or boringly normal, depending on how you look at it.

Heck, even the smell of fermenting banana wine that is permeating our whole place falls under the normal category only because my husband's fetish for making stuff out of mass quantities of produce that is homegrown (or tossed off floats) is something I've just learned to live with. Note to readers: If you plant any fruit or vegetable-producing plants, or inherit them, beware of the impulse to let nothing go to waste. We are truly up to our armpits in bananas right now. And I don't even like bananas.

Okay, here's the stuff that tips the scales:

Bars in the Bywater, Marigny, and the French Quarter are getting robbed left and right, it seems. The robbers are slowly moving their way uptown, making it so that a poor, rebuilding resident can't even catch a break and a drink in their favorite neighborhood watering hole. Bar owners are banding together to get something done about it. Yes, in any other corner of the world, having bars knocked over from time to time might be a normal occurrence, but in this town, it is a New Orleanian's God-given right to head out and drink, and to be able to take it with them in a go-cup. Plus, it puts a major crimp in everyone's ongoing campaign to get people to come back here to visit, to live, or to at least spend money here.

Watching the weather reports around here is a trip. Local weather reports treat everything developing into a potential hurricane way out in the Atlantic as major news. So far, most of the projected tracks on these things have been fairly accurate, and, more importantly, have put them out of the Gulf. Nobody can do a damn thing about a storm when it forms that early, so it seems to me to be an exercise in futility and a true expression of the hurricane season paranoia that has gripped everyone here in varying degrees. A holistic approach to meteorology and weather control will most likely be the next fad on the streets here. Maybe if we all just think en masse, at the exact same time, that the storm will be much happier out in the ocean, away from the big bad land that will slowly sap it of its power, then it will leave us alone, sensing our mass hysteria and fatigue. Uh-huh.

Finally, our contractor neighbor will have a film crew and the host of "Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel tagging along with him as he guts a house and/or carts away debris. Hey, someone's got to do it...and if someone's going to film it, so much the better. Anything that will give the outside world a glimpse of how much further this place has to go in terms of recovery is generally good, despite the short attention span encouraged by our information age. If our attention spans were truly that short, we'd all be dead before 30. As it is, everyone has their little battles here in one form or another to ensure that something of substantial and lasting importance will still be here in 30 years. Don't forget about us, big ol' world, please.

Oh, and on top of it all, the Saints (the football team, y'all) are 2 and 0 and their first home game in the cleaned and repaired Superdome is this coming weekend. It's a venue that is not without its controversial aspects - the big protest in particular is how anyone can possibly hold something like a football game ever again in a place that saw so much sorrow and suffering. Some might argue that with the Saints having been "Ain'ts" for so long, and the NBA Jazz being driven to Utah due to their struggles with playing home games during Mardi Gras season (among other things), the Dome saw loads of tragedy in its environs way before Katrina. All I can say to that is that the city needs some heroes right now. Having the football team kick some Green Bay butt on the road has given this town a boost. A majority of the players have a stake in the rebuilding of this city, and have donated loads of time and money to the rebuilding effort. New Orleans has become newcomer Reggie Bush's charity priority. More power to 'em all, and good luck to the team.

Besides which, they've drawn U2 and Green Day as performers for the home opener. Woo-hoo!

So here I am, still walking that fine line of sanity. Along with everyone else here. The struggle towards normalization is far from over, but there is a tad bit of progress, believe it or not. I still have trouble believing it myself, but hey. Schools have begun here, people are working away, and the weather is actually cooling off some. Now if we could just keep stray nails from deflating the tires on our cars...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

So the last few posts have been real downers.

Oy vey iz mir, blah, blah, blah...

Wanna know what keeps me up? The cultural blender that is my growing guy, my young son.

He's soaking up things like old "Muppet Show" episodes, his personal experiences, all the kiddie books we read to him, the music he hears, the stuff he learns at his preschool (Week three of Montessori and he's getting into the swing of things, finally), and all other major and minor things that cross his path. Since he's very verbal, it all comes out in one way or another through his words, and at oddly, sometimes ironically opportune times.

Three recent instances:

- When he was riding in the car with me after school, I asked my son what happened for him to be dressed in another set of clothes other than what he came to school in. He is on the verge of being potty trained, and this is his first full week in cloth undies - but his teacher had given me the Ziploc with his soiled clothes when I picked him up from school. So I knew what had happened, I just wanted to hear it from him. My son let out a preschooler sigh and said "I crapped my pants."
I nearly drove off the road, and I tried not to laugh. Later, when I told my husband what our darling son had said, he blamed it on our friend Edie...which is (pardon me) complete crap, and I called him on it. Dan has only been saying this around the little guy since we've been trying to potty train the kid, which has been for two years off and on now. My mother told me later that blame doesn't matter when potty training the kid is at stake - what matters is that he told it like it was. Yeah, riiiiight...

- At school pickup one afternoon, I talked with my son's teacher for a moment. She told me that he looks like such a sweet, innocent little guy, and then he comes out with a comment that is completely disarming. The real kicker is that he knows when he's delivering a zinger - what can I say, he was born with it. The latest from him to his teacher is when he told her she seemed to be a little fussy. My father is convinced that all of this comes straight from BOTH me and Dan.
Read the following. You be the judge...

- So I took my son to Hooters once this past summer. There was a counselor get-together there, largely because our counselor ranks wanted to expose our Israeli counselor to the atmosphere of the place. My husband was away on a business trip, and I couldn't get a sitter, so I took the little guy along, figuring that other families would be there, too. And I was right. The food was good, too. My son spent most of our time there running around on the big wraparound porch on the place, schmoozing with other kids his own age. He also managed to crash into the legs of one of the tightly clad waitresses, eliciting a "Nice move" comment from a contingent of male counselors.
Recently, I was meeting with the educational director of the synagogue where I will be teaching religious school once a week. I brought my son along, and he went across the hall to play in a playroom filled with all sorts of toys. While discussing the year's curriculum with the director, my son bounced into the office with the makings of a plastic play hamburger. He laid out all the pieces and put them together, bun, patty, lettuce, tomato, cheese, complete with running commentary on the construction process. He finished putting it all together by saying, "Just like at Hooters!"
The director's reaction: "WHAT?????"
So I had to explain.

As another Montessori mom said to me earlier, my son is a pistol.

If it weren't for the violent imagery, and the fact that once again, way too many shootings are occurring in this corner of the universe, I'd say that maybe what we need right now amongst the lawmaking and money-manipulating grownups are a few pistols like my son who aren't afraid to tell it like it is. To tell someone tying up FEMA dollars that they've crapped their pants big time. To rail at someone granting permits and clearance that they are a bit fussy.

Who knows, maybe if things get going in the right direction, it'll be Hooters' burgers for everyone. On rebuilt N'Awlins area dollars.

Nice move.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A sobering video, made by the brother of the assistant camp director I worked with this past summer:

I went back up to the New York area for a visit this past weekend, and realized that no one I talked with can truly wrap their head around the scale of the neglect and the blight of once-full homes and local businesses. Telling a New Yorker to imagine Manhattan laid to waste, except for the lower tip of the island, just doesn't cut it.

A good friend of mine who relocated to Astoria after a long hard road following the evacuation of her home on Magazine Street here heard me talking about all the paradoxes involved in living down here now and asked me about the extent of my depression. I told her it was also tied up in discovering an identity for myself outside of raising my son full-time now that he is attending school for most of the day (it's week three and he seems to be enjoying himself much better). The struggle is ongoing (see previous posts), and all it means is that I will be figuring it all out in time, like I always have. There's a wonderful magnet my in-laws have on their fridge of a fellow on the tracks squashed beneath a moving train with the caption, "This Too Shall Pass".

I may have to prop up my hope with a two-by-four right now, but I always keep that magnet in mind.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

For this month’s Blogging for Books, write about a time when you either:
learned a harsh life lesson, got punk’d, or simply had someone make an ass of you;
gained a spectacular new insight into life; or
decided to educate yourself about something.

(Because it has been going around in my head quite a bit, this whole education and possible re-education thing I've been grappling with career-wise and kid-wise (this morning, the little guy went bad-crazy when he realized we were headed to the "work school" again. Ding, Ding, ready for week two...), I decided to weigh in on the above Blogging for Books question, the education one in particular. I'm ready for my gift certificate, Mr. DeMille...uh...Allen!)

My dad dates it to when we began to kibitz with some biker dude in standstill traffic, waiting for the blast crews working on the highway to give the all-clear. The dude revealed within the course of our conversation that he was a glassblower. "Or, perhaps it was all those times we took you with us to the Houston Festival," Dad says sometimes, implying I might have been bit by the glass bug through craft-show osmosis.

I myself date it to art history in college.

Plus, the fact that I'm a Sagittarius. And every glassblower does have a bit of a pyromaniac lurking within his/her heart of hearts. Folks born under a fire sign, take heart. Parents of the aforementioned folks, beware.

I hunted down the head of the glass department midway through my first semester of art school, pinned him down and told him the preliminary meeting for the beginning hot glass course held between the two semesters would exclude the entire freshman class, since it was scheduled to be right in the middle of the art history survey course. So the situation was remedied quickly, because the department head needed fresh bodies for the continued operations of the undergraduate program. Not quickly enough, as it turned out, because half of the expected people clamoring for spots in the class showed up and were signed up on the spot, myself among them.

I learned, in six weeks of working with hot glass, how to gather it out of a 2000 degree furnace on the end of a steel pipe without frying my hands. I learned never to touch any glass in the hot shop with my bare hands - I figured out the hard way that even though it may not look hot, it can be hot. I learned to constantly turn the hot glass on the end of a pipe, or else it would fall right off. I learned how to grind and polish glass with diamond tools, silicon grits, grinding belts, and loads of water. I learned, after accidentally setting myself on fire, where the fire blanket was. An instructor later joked that it was because of me that the hot shop finally received a shower, and that my name would be engraved on it.

After six weeks, I learned that six weeks wasn't enough for me. I sneaked into the hot shop whenever I could, with a fellow beginning class alumnus in tow. We took hold of open glassblowing slots and made the most of them. When the time came, I declared glass as my major.

I loved my experiences up on the fourth floor of the industrial building in which the glass department was housed. The set-up of the whole program was communal, encouraging a closeness between graduates and undergraduates. I had the perfect glass blowing partner for a couple of years and was somewhat depressed when she graduated the year before I did. I got a kick out of the visiting artists that paraded through the halls like the art stars half of them were. I even attended some summer programs.

And then, in my last year, a certain decline occurred. I received a fellowship to a glass studio in New Jersey for three months, but the only time they could have me come was in my final semester of college. I cried at the injustice of the timing and stayed in school to get my degree. Partner-less, and expected to develop a vision that would lead to the start of a strong portfolio that could well catapult me to an art glass career, I stumbled a bit towards the glass goal, suddenly realizing there was more to life than glass. It took another six years after graduation for that realization to sink in.

I date the beginning of the end to my failure to get into a graduate-level glass program. I set myself up for it - I only applied to two schools. A graduate-student friend said to me, "Oh, but life gets in the way if you put off graduate school. You should have applied to more schools." I realized, when she said that, that I wanted life to get in the way.

So I have that piece of paper, that degree. I have my college memories and my struggles afterward with the real world and trying to fit glasswork into it somehow. I have my glass tools, my blowpipes, and many things around the house that are packed away so that my preschool-age son doesn't get to them. But I also have this final thing that I have learned.

Glass never loved me back. And I gave a lot of my life to it. I just wasn't cut out to be married to it, I guess. What I really loved were the people I met, the experiences surrounding the atmosphere of the excellent program that was set up at the art school I attended. It was all a great glorious rush, and it seems to have had its day.

Funny how such a thing helped teach me so much about life and the people in it.