Friday, December 31, 2010

I look out at the cusp of 2011 and I see....holes.

So I've been obsessed with what's been going on right outside our doorstep.  On the face of it, how could I not be?  It's right there in my face: our tenants' front room reeked of gas even though we have no gas lines powering anything in the house anymore, and it was still happening despite a midnight excavation that supposedly took care of it.

I was annoyed - yet intrigued.

How were these holes different from all the other holes I've been seeing about town?

First excavation around, I half-joked with our tenant that it would probably be filled in by Mardi Gras, as the Sewerage and Water Board and other entities supposedly in charge of street repairs are wont to do.  Neither of us expected much - the perverse joy this city seems to take in starting big, ambitious things, then abandoning them due to one reason or another (usually financial difficulties) had permeated our thinking.  We fully expected Entergy people to stop up the leak, then leave enough detritus and reflective sawhorses around just so the little guy could keep exclaiming, "Look, Mom! Rubble!" every time we went in and out of our front gate.  And, even though we were pleasantly surprised at how relatively quickly they actually paved over the hole, something still wasn't right.  The smell lingered.

Years ago, shortly before we moved back down to New Orleans, a transit strike crippled New York City for a good length of time, enough for loads of people to kvetch away on our Queens synagogue's listserv about how much the strike hurt their commutes and how dare the transit workers do this over something so selfish as better working conditions and better pay?  All people seemed to see on their ends was the traffic tie-ups, the staggering crowds waiting at platforms for the few trains that were running, the intense planning that had to be done to do something like getting to work or school and back.  I won't say it didn't piss me off, too, but I was saddened by how little friends and acquaintances seemed to want to look at the real reasons why they had to find alternate ways to do the things they once took for granted.  The city had been taking full advantage of the people running the transit system for quite a while, and it didn't take much to see that what was going on underground and on the elevated platforms was happening to employees all over the country in ways big and small - how much people were being shorted working hours so that they weren't entitled to benefits, say.  The people charged with maintaining an integral part of the city's infrastructure were being overworked and were then stomped on for saying so, and people were buying that the employees were somehow bad because of that.  So a person standing in a token booth has a hard do we all.  Suck it up.

Sure, the S & WB's track record with regards to fixing holes isn't great, and yeah, Entergy takes full advantage of its monopoly on supplying energy here.  As organizations, they're no angels in the areas of customer service.  There are no illusions there...but every so often...

A new crew came back around to reopen the first hole and were horrified at what had happened with the "repairs".  They took the time to monitor more fully where the smell was coming from. Dan spoke to them and found we still had a chunk of history in there that had to be removed: a wood-encased section of lead pipe that could well date from the city's earliest gaslight days.  Another hole was opened not far from the first hole. It seems they have sealed things up for the time being underground, though we are still awaiting the hauling away of the last of the detritus and the paving of the sidewalk.  But things got done.

So I guess my wish for the new year is that we all be as pleasantly surprised.  We all get our perceptions shaken in good ways.  And probably most importantly, we give each other the chance to exceed expectations.  Peace, love, and understanding.  Yeah.

I also hope Entergy doesn't have to dig up our sidewalk for a long, loooong time.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

*Update, 1/3/2011: The second line from Mimi's has been cancelled and will be rescheduled.  Once I get the date and time, I will post it.  Until then, the money collected through PayPal will be passed on to Morwen for her expenses at this time.

From Ray in Exile, December 20, 2010:
Betty Ann Davis, RIP.
Betts, who was my friend and who was Morwen Madrigal's long-time partner, passed away suddenly last night after a long illness.
This is so very sad.
From Maitri, also on December 20:
Betty Ann Davis, friend and partner of Morwen Madrigal, passed away last night after a long illness. Sweet, quiet Betts, until she got behind a pool cue or shot glass, and then you’d best watch out. Morwen herself has been very ill lately and I worry about the effects Betts’s passing will have on her.
At this time, friend and blogger Morwen needs our help to defray the costs of the funeral and the second line, which will begin at Mimi's in the Marigny on January 5 of the new year, 6 PM.  All donations are in the care of NOLA Slate.  Please head to PayPal and direct your donations for the band at the second line to

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For some exploration of the possible origins of the Saints-Falcons rivalry, head here and read Bob Krieger's meditation on it, circa 1983. Happy 30th to the Gambit, by the way.

For more recent explorations on said rivalry, head to Cliff's neck of the woods and Coozan Pat's.

But, for a true look at what any sort of "Katrina coverage" in the context of Saints games means, I must refer you to the yaller blogger:
As the Saints embarked on the run that led to their championship last year, the Katrina linkage Godfrey is pronouncing himself brave enough to "call out" as "sloppy grandstanding" wasn't coming from us. It was coming from nationally based commentators and from network television crews covering the games. And it was awful. People could set their game clocks by the first Fox Sports stock footage of flooded homes. There were drinking games themed around it. It was tone deaf and phony and grating and you knew it was coming every time. But anyone with a eye on local coverage or, at the very least, a NOLA-centric Twitter feed knew how annoyed and offended most of us frequently were by it. 
From our perspective, the constant flogging of the Katrina meme not only re-hashed and, in fact, trivialized our experiences here after the flood but also called the focus away from a moment in time we had invested decades of communal yearning in the hope that we'd be around to see. Sure, the flood experience was something we could glom onto that a little but it wasn't the reason for our collective mania. When media people who don't know New Orleans very well watched Saints fans dance and parade in the streets for weeks after the Superbowl (without breaking or burning anything, mind you) the best explanation that fit their understanding was that we were exhibiting some sort of post-traumatic episode. How could they understand that this is just how we are? Not everybody gets it. 

When all is said and done, most longtime Saints fans know how much the Lombardi feather in the Saints' helmets meant to this whole community.  Most also know what it means to have the upper hand in the rivalry the Saints have with the Falcons.  But we also know not to beat someone when they're down, which is what happened to us for so, so long in more ways than just watching and listening to 40-plus football seasons of hurt, with a few too-close playoff appearances thrown in for variety.  People still think parts of this city are underwater five years later, for crying out loud.  The idiocy would be laughable if it weren't so willfully ignorant.

So I see celebrations of the puntalicious and kinda sloppy win the Saints got against their division rivals as being both poignant and yet still fun.

We love our team.  Those fellas love us back.  Keep on keepin' on, you Saints, you.

Update, 1:54 PM: More goodness on the "Katrina coverage" from Varg.

*Thanks to @jacobjmayer for the Saints on the Falcon picture.  This is his version, for your further enjoyment.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Just when I thought we were done...

This morning, I heard some tapping of metal outside, and the little guy thought he'd be a character and mimic someone using a hammer as we heard each tap.  Cute...until Dan told me who it was outside and I caught a glimpse of the equipment they had on hand.

It began with some much smaller holes running all up and down our sidewalk...

....and ended with the small earth mover they brought and freshly poured concrete:

Gee, doesn't this look familiar?

The impressive number of no uncertain four-letter words emanating from these guys when they reopened the hole and saw what a crappy job was done the first time around was stunning.  Have they really done it right this time?  Hey, subterranean gas line repair experts, let me know:

All this fuss when our house no longer has any gas lines running into it. Let's hope this stops it smelling like it still has those lines.  Otherwise, we may have a different sort of warmth going in our front rooms...

Happy hollerdays, everybody.

Friday, December 24, 2010

If I'd grown up with Christmas traditions such as this one...

...perhaps I wouldn't be the Jewish broad I am today. OR I'd be even more of a pyromaniac than I already am.

Happy, healthy, and safe holidays to all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We're all closing in on this Christian and consumerist nation's favorite holiday.  Peace on Earth, goodwill toward one's fellow human being, the spirit of giving, all that jazz.  WWL commemorates it with a series they call 12 for the Road, featuring a bunch of local luminaries mixing holiday libations that won't get you fully lit, and they kicked it off last night with Chief Ronal Serpas mixing a Tropical Sorbet Bellini after having chatted with Bill Capo about his life and his possibly too-fast promotions up the NOPD ladder, earning him at one point the nickname of "Major Minor".

It's insane, really.

This man talks major, but the changes in the here and now have been very minor, especially in the 7th and 9th Wards, where the 5th District police aren't even bothering to supply people with report numbers when they do what they are supposed to do and report the crimes.  Building a top force in five years?  People need that now.

In the meantime, Humid Beings is asking everybody affected by recent events in those areas to publish details over there if anybody knows anything.  And I guess we are reduced to doing stuff like this whenever home invasions happen - or, in the spirit of the hollerdays...

Thanks to @marignymohican on Twitter for the above YouTube.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Humid City has my message to all those affected by recent crimes.  Be careful out there in the 7th and 9th wards, everybody.  Especially at this time of year.

In honor of the return of blogmaestro Loki (or ought that to be Scoutmaster Lumpus?) to the Humid-ity, I bring you a soon-to-be hostiliday classic:

Merry Yakkmas, all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Looking for hostilidays YouTubes relating to Hannukah has gotten harder as the years go by.  I can't decide if it's because people have begun to exhibit better taste with regards to the holiday or new lows are simply harder to conjure...but I did find something that would appeal to a certain Coozan from Georgia:

...and then there's this woman, who makes the Mormons scared...only Jews need apply here:

...but, you know, I still have a soft spot for this classic, especially since I found so many YouTubes of Santa as a felon.

Happy Hostilidays, everybody.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So while I'm waiting for Part 2 of Dambala's reportage on the current real estate pickle this town is in, I'll bring you up to date on my son's Dubya project, which is now almost complete.

We helped him answer the questions - and answer them straight - despite Dan's constant subtextual commentary during the whole process ("Where was he born?"  "IN HELL...errr, Connecticut.").  The little guy actually cracked open the better book (Graffiti Bits) himself for the final four questions and found some tidbits of information on the 43rd preznit that were not to his personal liking:
  • Dubya would chew tobacco and spit at the back of his classes at Harvard Business School.  Gave the kiddo an opportunity to use his favorite word: NASTY.
  • The man wanted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for crude oil and gas - and, considering all that the kid has learned about Alaska and the dangers of spilled oil in the past year, if this hasn't tipped him over into full environmentalist mode, I don't know what will.  Learning this about Dubya just didn't sit well with him.
I ran into the mother of one of the little guy's fellow students at the grocery store and told her which president he'd been assigned to report on, and not only was she horrified ("Can they do that????"), a stockboy nearby overheard and shook his head disgustedly.  On getting the opportunity to sit with the teacher yesterday, I asked her why she'd assigned this sorry excuse for a White House resident to the kiddo and she told me she figured we could handle it.

We could handle it, she said.

Take that in a minute.  Absorb that.

Part of his assignment was to supply a picture of the president being reported on with his answers.  Dan felt we had to make things clear about how we felt about this president as a he supplied five pictures:

Yep, I guess that's handling it.

Last thing we need to do: make a "favorite dish" of the president.  Despite some "possible evidence" to the contrary, I will give the Bushes this much: their greatest contribution to America has been Laura Bush's cowboy cookies recipe.  Consider that my holiday gift to all of you.  

See, things aren't all bad!  Well...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Check it out.  Dambala's been up to a hell of a lot:

On October 26th, the Orleans Parish Clerk of Court office experienced a computer crash. The server which held the mortgage and conveyance digital records for the entire parish, and more importantly, the only index for the records, had gone offline. At the time, it caused little concern amongst the office employees who regularly maintain and update the records, or the independent abstractors that rely on the database to research properties for banks, title companies, and insurers. The system had crashed many times before, and it usually came back up within a couple of hours at most. Most of them knew little of how the computer system worked or even where the mainframe was located in the Amoco building at 1340 Poydras. People simply accessed and entered data on the computer terminals in the mortgage and conveyance office on the fourth floor and endured the occasional crashes with little concern - trusting that someone, somewhere in the building had things under control. After all, the entire real estate industry in Orleans Parish revolved on these property records, so surely the computer system was up-to-date and contingencies had been put in place to back up all the digital files. They assumed this was just another IT hiccup. But, as the work day drew to a close, the computer system still lay dormant.

By the third day, rumors had started to circulate in the office that something was seriously wrong. A large amount of data may have been lost, including a part of the index which sorted both the digital records and the paper records, and most importantly, somehow, this data may not have been backed up. The rumors were harrowing and people started to grasp the potential danger of the situation. This wasn't a typical crash. This could be heavy.....

...As this article is written, we are nearly eight weeks into the crisis with a nebulous timeline for resolution of recovering the records. Approximately 90 employees from multiple parishes have been commandeered to re-enter the lost data for both the mortgage and conveyance records. Optimistic estimates call for completion of the data entry in January or February of 2011. Other less rosy estimates put the date closer to April or May. Every day the system is down intensifies the city's financial devastation in orders of magnitude. The real estate industry is the lifeblood of New Orleans' economy and as of now, only 3% to 5% of transactions are currently being processed. The situation is critical. If the problem continues well into next year, the potential economic fallout is unfathomable.

The people on the front line of the crisis, those who have immediately felt the effects of the crash, are real estate abstractors. Abstractors are responsible for researching all records of a property before a real estate transaction can be processed in confidence.
Read..and see...part 1 over at Humid Beings.
You'll have to excuse me, but I've never been one for histrionics about aging (like at 1:30 here).  Aging is a fact of life.  Aging is just what we do.  Big whoop.  Not that there's anything wrong with living as though time stopped when one was eighteen, it just isn't for me.

And then I started in on a troika of books about one's body and soul....topped off by a family member confronting me with lose weight or die at a recent gathering.  Nice.  Things are getting too heavy and I am now older than Sally Albright and heading towards beginning my fifth decade on this planet.  What did I do to deserve this?

Oh, right, I've aged.  How dare I???

Musings on the body and soul began fairly unsuspectingly with Mark Jacobson's latest, which features a cover sporting the object of the book's scrutiny beneath a translucent cover that can be pulled back to reveal the lamp in all its horrid splendor, gifted to Jacobson by a New Orleans resident who happened to get it from Dave Domenici, former pilferer of cemetery artifacts-turned scrounger of post-8-29 debris.  The claims of Domenici that the lampshade is made of human skin are put to scientific examination and testing and are found to be true - which leads Jacobson on a quest to find out more about the shade itself and about the truth of the most legendary - and basest - horrors of the Shoah: that at Buchenwald, the skins of the Jews were made into lampshades and their fat made into soap.  His explorations also lead him into a closer look at the history of race in the city in which the lampshade was found, to an interview with David Duke that made me nearly throw the book across the room, and, finally, to the fact that the object-ness of the lamp is transcended by the humanity of the shade's material.  Jacobson is still looking for a "good" way to dispose of the object, which he thought could be best expressed by a burial of the lampshade.  I personally hope that that comes to pass in some way, but it can be hard to get beyond a person's cellular matter to see who exactly he/she once was.

One person who got very curious about the effect diseased cellular matter had on an individual's - and a family's identity - was Rebecca Skloot.  Having been told one small detail about a set of cancer cells from one woman that had helped medical science immeasurably, Skloot's detective work got her into one family's lives after their dying matriarch's cancer cells were harvested without her permission and found to be "immortal".  Her book is a stunning read, not the least because of the examination of the racial issues that governed medical treatment at the time the cells were harvested from Henrietta Lacks, and how those issues carried over into what little her family knew about what had really happened to her when she went in for the treatment of her cancer.

So I went from tanning human skin out of hate to harvesting human cells without the person of origin's permission in the name of science.  One case would be clear-cut if Jacobson could have established a true connection between Buchenwald and his lampshade - the other case raises thornier questions about bioethics and how much control we really do have over our corporeal selves, how much say we might have as individuals over how our cells are used.  I think I aged a few more years just contemplating all of this....

But then I pile this book atop it all.  The questions of one's immortal soul are big ones, and I've grown up with so many of Rabbi Nachman's tales in my psyche from bits and pieces of them speaking to me throughout my religious studies and my own readings, that looking at them in the context of Kafka's writings and life was intriguing.  It also makes me want to go back and check out Kafka's work again, which always seemed to be so dreary and cruelly dark, so forbidding an oeuvre that I never went beyond "The Metamorphosis".  Considering that, in the author Rodger Kamenetz's estimation, Kafka is more relevant at this time and in this place now more than ever, I ought to give my darkest imaginings a break and see both his and Reb Nachman's tales in a new light.  What tales will live on to help heal the world after we are all gone, and who will continue in that work?  What, in the end, is immortality, really?

So I'm exercising regularly now.  I'm reading a bit more carefully.  Trying to be more considerate to my family and friends because, yes, they do want me around.  And, though I'm still not a huge fan of going insane over time's passing, I must say that I am feeling its effects.  They aren't always pretty.  But they are some of life's necessities.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How is it that the fantastically frum reggae-tinged rapper Matisyahu can rock it despite Antiochus' temptations:

...yet mess it up when he has to speak a few lines?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Things have been hectic.  Stuff has been happening.  Computer access has been limited through a series of unfortunate cyber events.  The only sign I have been given that times might get better has been the opening of a huge hole in our sidewalk occasioned by a call to Entergy from one of our tenants who smelled gas in her living room even though our house's appliances are currently all electric.  They decided to jackhammer it at nearly midnight last Wednesday night, which I vaguely made out through a haze of sleep when some books fell off my bookshelf at the same time and shouting at the jackhammerers was heard through my walls.  We awoke the next morning to chilly weather and the sight of this just outside our gate:

The only thing separating the passersby from falling into a four foot deep hole just beyond that pile of dirt and concrete was a flimsy line of caution tape.  Reminded me of people taping off big swathes of territory on the sidewalks at Mardi Gras time, with the added peril of a moat involved.  Throw me a new sidewalk mister!

Stage 2 came the following Tuesday afternoon:

Caught the tail end of two fellows from Entergy filling in the hole and carefully separating out the concrete from the dirt as you can see here.  The fellow finishing it off with the shovel told me it would be repaved by the end of the week.  I should've gotten his name so that I could wield it like a talisman when the end of the week passes and no fresh concrete is there.  I'm not very optimistic.

Stage 3 allows us to have street parking back but pedestrians can still go jump:

Things could always be worse, of course.  It could be the Sewerage and Water Board opening up this hole and leaving it 'til Mardi Gras time.

Aside from all that, it has been a good Hannukah with the little guy's birthday right smack in the middle of it.  Cannot believe he's eight years old.  Did I really bring him this far through life on this planet without his losing a limb or something?  Apparently, both Dan and I have.  Amazing.

Update, 12/17: Stage 4: 

and...slight drum roll please....Stage 5, done yesterday:

WE HAVE PAVEMENT...with a small debris pile beside it.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Stand back...if you can watch this all the way through, you're stronger than I:

Happy Hannukah, everybody.