Thursday, September 28, 2006

Virginia

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
East Virginia... um... non-West Virginia... no...Regular Virginia... er...


Anyway, we're in Virginia (with a splash of Maryland). More soon. Ta...

Queue the Andrew Lloyd Weber...

One year ago today, I re-entered the city for the first time since the storm. I smelled that noxious stank, saw those ravaged and empty streets, the battered skyline, and my sad house for the first time. But it felt pretty good to be here. A year later, a lot of things are different. Some things are the same. It still feels pretty good.

You'll have to forgive my recent wistful reminiscences. It must be the season, our recent spate of momentous occasions and anniversaries, a change in the air, the little teasing wisps of fall. But don't worry, we will shortly revert to our standard fare of cheek and nonsense.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Halcyon Days

When I look at photographs from before the storm, pictures of our house with our stuff and our children living in it, pictures of our neighborhood with green lawns and people, pictures of our city showing the way life was then, it all seems so long ago, like some long-lost era.

I had a similar feeling the other day when I was looking at New Orleans in Google Maps. I pulled up the satellite pictures and zoomed in and realized they're all from before the storm. You can make out a remarkable level of detail: well kept yards; intact houses; streets full of cars; a living, vital Lower 9th; Lakeview; our neighborhood. It's easy to forget that things once looked like that, and seeing it again gave me a touch of the chills.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Boo-yeah!

Which is to say, boo-yeah! And not just a little boo-yeah. A lot boo-yeah! Very impressive.

Good game. Gud game. Guhgame. Guhgame-guhgame-guhgame-guhgame....

This blog will now revert to its utterly sports-less self.

Monday, September 25, 2006

It's a Saints-ation!

The city's gone in-Sain...ts!* Many of my co-workers are wearing the Black and Gold.** So were a lot of the kids and teachers at Louise's school. (Some were even in face paint.) This morning, Sarah saw a bunch of Ursuline gals actually out of uniform, wearing the colors and putting up Saints decorations. Madness! Madness, I say!

Win or lose, this is a good thing, and I am Saints-erely moved.

* Look, I admit this pun's pretty weak, but I'm trying. Got anything better?

** I was going to do the same, but when we went looking for gear this weekend, we couldn't find anything that wasn't gi-normous and hideous. ("Excuse me sir, would you happen to have any items that are... er... how to put this... tasteful?") Gi-normous, hideous garments are strictly banned under the
Articles of Slimbo-Aesthetics. I guess I'll just have to make something.

School House Rock

I'm reading* this completely bad ass book, which is chock-full of excellent tidbits about our fair city. Here's one:

There are no naturally occurring rocks in New Orleans and the surrounding region. If you'd made me think about it, I might have guessed that, but no one ever made me think about it. The entire area was formed by sediment carried by downstream by the Mississippi, and all of the big stuff dropped out way upriver. By the time you get this far south, it's almost all fine silt and clay. So:
"Any particle in southeastern Louisiana coarser than a few millimeters in diameter was imported by humans."
There you have it. No rocks.

And yet, somehow, we will rock you.

* Though "reading" might imply a roughly linear path through the content. In truth, it's a meandering, semi-random hopscotch, landing on choice bits of text, graphs, and deliriously delicious maps (yes, I'm finally getting my map fix).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Enter the Hyphen

I would like to propose a more expansive use of the term "ninja."

We all know what ninjas are, those black-clad masters of secrecy, possessors of near superhuman skills in the martial arts and stealth. They can appear to vanish into thin air, catch a throwing star with their bare hands, jump over towering castle walls, or even enter a trance-like state indistinguishable from death so as to deceive their enemies.

But there are other people who are also very good at things, possessors of near superhuman skills in their own particular domains, those who excel at making coffee, shopping for groceries, Scrabble, etc. Aren't they in some sense ninja-ish? Should they be denied the "ninja" appellation? I think not.

Let us henceforth refer to the "classic" ninja as a ninja-ninja. Those who are very good at something else will be whatever-else-they-are-very-good-at-ninjas: a spelling-ninja, a crossword-puzzle-ninja, a boiling-spaghetti-ninja, a tying-shoes-ninja, a detecting-grammatical-errors-in-the-sentences-of-others-ninja, a Dewey-Decimal-System-ninja, a nose-whistling-ninja, and so on. This morning I was a sleeping-in-ninja, deflecting the metaphorical "throwing stars" of my children's shrieks with my "bare hands" of extreme slumber.

What kind of ninja are you?

Thursday, September 21, 2006



The latest installment in my "Heavyset, Mustachioed Men in Bib Overalls" series.

Marching In

As previously mentioned, I don't give a damn about sports, at least not sports qua sports.* But oh, Lord, I'm rooting for the Saints - on behalf of all the people in this city who do care. And I would love it if they won this coming Monday,** their first game back in our poor old Superdome. We actually intend to watch the game, a truly momentous occasion.

Cooler weather, no hurricanes, and a winning Saints season - is that too much to ask? It would do wonders for the mood of this town.

* Johnny-baiting.

** One of my favorite things about Louise's school are the morning meetings. At the start of each day, the teachers and students congregate in front of the school for announcements and the like. Parents are welcome to stick around, and many do because the meetings are so thoroughly entertaining. The highlight is when Mr. Hughes, the music teacher, picks up his guitar and plays the song of the day. They range from "You Are My Sunshine" to old New Orleans R&B classics to "They All Asked for You" to the school theme song. On Rock 'n Roll Friday he busts out the electric. Kids get up and dance. And when the Saints win, the next day he plays "When the Saints Go Marching In." He's played it twice so far. I'd love it if next Tuesday was the third. (I think because of these meetings, even Louise has taken a sudden interest in football and will suddenly exclaim things like "Go Saints!", a surprising shift from her normal picking-flowers-and-chasing-butterflies temperament.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Joe Continues on His Merry Way



I'm going to throw in a plot point of my own. Is that against the rules? Oh, wait, there are no rules:*

Realizing the logical fallacy of being eaten alive by wolves (he is dead after all), Joe continues on his merry way.** Thank goodness for metaphysics.

* Just like at the Outback Steakhouse.

** I bet you didn't know skeletons could whistle, did you?

<- Previously on "Joe the Skeleton's Big, Very Exciting Day."

Extreme Tiddlywinks

Somebody actually Googled "extreme tiddlywinks"* and wound up here. I've got to patent that thing. The dollars will be rolling in.

Seriously, though, what's the back-story? Had the Googler tired of "conventional tiddlywinks" and decided to "kick it up a notch"? Are there other possibilities? It truly boggles the mind.

And what would Extreme Tiddlywinks (XT? eXtreme tiddlywinX?) look like? Giant discs launched into a flaming cup by players suspended from helicopters over a piranha-filled lake?

Yeah, probably.

* Another Slimbidyad, I'm proud to say.

Cool Like That

It was cool this morning! An actual chill to the air! It's happening, all my dreams realized!

Well, I'm not foolish enough to believe that we've seen the last of the hot weather, but I'll take what I can get. A hint of things to come? That's fine with me. To just walk out the door at seven in the morning and not be hit by a hot blast of muggy air is utterly exquisite.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Apparently There Is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

When Louise started school, we had to fill out a questionnaire about our current living arrangements. We have now learned that we are technically "homeless", and consequently, Louise qualifies for free lunch.* This strikes me as both hilarious and absurdly sad.

They also offered to assign us a caseworker. We declined.

* "Free and reduced lunches" are a standard metric of poverty in schools, so "free lunch" means a lot more than just free lunch.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Summertime, and the Living Ain't Easy

I like summer, but I don't like this summer. I'll be happy when the weather really breaks. That does happen, right? There are other seasons, aren't there? Ones that aren't hot? I can't quite recall...

"I'll Take Whatever You Got, Darlin'"

Yesterday evening we decided to have a picnic dinner in the park by the river. We stopped by Popeye's to pick up some fried chicken. That's when the trouble began.

We ordered. Then we waited. Then we waited some more. Other people ordered. They waited. The AC wasn't working. It was hot and smoky. An alarm kept going off intermittently. There was no ice. There were no onion rings. There were no napkins. They had mixed up the spicy and the mild. More people ordered. More people waited. The kids started climbing on the tables. This went on for a very long time. After a while, the whole restaurant was full of people standing around, waiting for chicken.

And no one got mad. There was a bit of sass, to be sure, "What are you waiting on?" "I'll take whatever you got, darlin'" or "They gotta go catch the chicken," but there was no overt malice. About half an hour rolled by. Finally, we got some semblance of our order and went on our merry way.

Something about this scene strikes me as quintessentially New Orleans: an acceptance of that over which one has no control, a willingness to take life's setbacks with easy good-nature, a (possibly excessive) tolerance of the incompetence of others, and a determination to do whatever it goddamn takes to get good fried chicken.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Joe Is Eaten Alive By Wolves (A Very Special Episode of "Joe the Skeleton's Big, Very Exciting Day")






Good gracious, this is an exciting day! Joe has just barely finished getting his groove on when he encounters wolves. Wolves! Sadly, they eat him alive. But so shall it be. In the end, we must all shuffle off this mortal coil.

And where the hell is that Fifi? Stupid imaginary pets, never there when you need them.

<- Previously on "Joe the Skeleton's Big, Very Exciting Day."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Cross Your Fingers

Shortly after the storm, mixed in with the sadness and struggle, there was also a sense of optimism - that with the slate wiped clean, we might have the chance to rebuild in a new, better way, making the sort of radical corrections that could only happen in the wake of such an extreme event. A year later, some of this optimism has faded. But I still hold out hope for the schools.

Before the storm, New Orleans' school system was a chronic, atrocious, profoundly dysfunctional train wreck. For decades, people talked about turning it around. Nothing of substance ever happened.

Now, in this particular regard, the slate really has been wiped clean, and we're embarking on a grand scholastic experiment. Only a handful of schools remain under the control of the old school board. A number of others have been taken over by the state. And the rest have become charters: independent charters, affiliated groups of charters, charters under the purview of various local universities. And for the most part, parents can send their children wherever they want.

Is there anywhere else in the country with a predominantly charter-based school system? I haven't heard of one. I've always been a little wary of the charter school movement, concerned that the end result might be to gut the conventional public schools. But in this particular case, I'm all for it. Nothing could be worse than what we had. And with the removal of an inept bureaucracy, and real choices, and an opportunity for true parental involvement, things stand a good chance of being substantially better.

As the schools go, so goes the rest of the city. The pre-storm failure of the school system played a key role in the city's slow decline. If we can turn the school's around, then our city, as a whole, really stands a chance.

Cross your fingers.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sweet Sixteen

'Tis the season of anniversaries, good and bad(1, 2). Today is a good one. Today, the Lady and I have officially been together sixteen years.* I would like to celebrate this occasion with an uproarious "boo-yeah!" In unison, of course. All together now:

"Boo-yeah!"

Thank you. That was very nice.

* In two years, we actually arrive at the "Half Our Lives" mark. I intend to fully geek out on this, calculating the precise halfway date between our birthdays, the exact number of days from that date to Sept. 13, 1990, and the exact double of that duration. But I'm a little worried about leap years. Leap years are kind of hard.

Re-volution

Urban environments are constantly evolving. Neighborhoods expand. Roads are added. Schools are built. Businesses come and go. Typically, these changes are slow, gradually accumulating over the course of years and decades. But in the strange microcosm of post-Katrina New Orleans, a similar sort of evolution (re-evolution? re-volution? Are we not men? We are Revo!) is occurring at a (relative) break-neck speed.*

The storm knocked the physical contours of the city back to its boundaries of 150 years ago, almost completely depopulated it, and shuttered nearly every single business. Then the city reopened, and life came back to the high grounds. Unflooded neighborhoods quickly filled up, and businesses reopened.

After the first few months, the high-ground filled up, and the city more slowly began pushing back out into the flooded lowlands. FEMA trailers sprang up in the wilderness. A grocery store opened here, a gas station there.** And this process is ongoing. People are moving back into their houses. Commercial activity is gradually is returning. Institutions are reopening. The boundaries are stretching out again, expanding week by week, to reacquire some semblance of their shape before the storm.

And this presents a curious challenge to the residents. We all have a mental map of the places we live in, a list of important personal landmarks, the places in our everyday lives. Normally, this mental map is relatively stable, only occasionally updating to account for some change in the cityscape. But here, it's in constant flux. We frequently find ourselves having thoughts like, "Isn't there a drug store around here? There used to be two a few blocks that way, but I think they're both closed still. Or did the Walgreen's reopen? I'm not sure. Hmm..."

It takes a lot of work keeping track of the changes. Early on, people eagerly exchanged information about what had re-opened like hot stock tips. Now, the pace is less feverish, but it's still chugging along. As each month goes by, our city is, yet again, substantially changed, and our tired, feeble brains have to try to keep up.

Oh, well. I guess it keeps us on our toes.

* Yes, the common lament is that rebuilding is too slow, and that's fair enough. But really it took generations to build most cities. We're having to rebuild one in a handful of years. (Sort of like that time in one of the Trek movies when Spock turned back into a child and then rapidly and painfully re-matured. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Don't act like you don't.) Rome wasn't built in a day.

** The gas stations are an important issue. Initially they were few and far between. They're still pretty scarce in many parts of the city. And curiously, it's the Spurs, the funky little discount franchise stations, that are open first - the ones where you can't pay at the pump and have to go inside and stand in line behind the guy blowing his paycheck on lotto tickets and the sweaty contractor buying a six-pack and Slim Jims and then slide your money through the window in the bullet proof glass before filling up.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Alright

Here's a conversational exchange I almost never hear:
"How are you doing?"

"Alright. How are you doing?"

"Alright."
It is almost invariably rendered in one of two abridged forms:
"How ya doing?"

"How ya doing?"
or:
"Alright."

"Alright."
with the last syllable stretched far beyond its standard length.* In both cases any true sense of questioning has been lost, and it's simply a formulaic greeting/acknowledgement. I'm quite fond of (and typically use) the first. A question that requires no response? Wonderful. But I love the second. A response that requires no question? Fantastique!

* I know the first form is in broad use, but I'm trying to remember if I've heard the second form elsewhere or if it's a regional thing. Far-flung correspondents, please enlighten me.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Spite-Shite

Warning! This post is kind of foul. Read at your own risk.

A friend recently told us the following story. A while back, she was waiting in line at the grocery store. She looked on as a man tried to rush through the front door of the store with a shopping cart full of unpurchased liquor. He was quickly tackled and restrained, but he then proceeded to drop his pants and defecate right there in front of everyone. The stunned captors quickly reverted to verbal negotiations.

This story is alarming but not unique. It reminds me of other similar incidents I've heard of. After the storm, there were numerous reports of malicious defecation in various looted businesses and other locations (including into the deep-fryer of a well-known downtown restaurant). And I once read an article about the transport of new cars on trains. Originally, the standard practice was to leave the keys in the ignition, but hobos made a practice of sleeping in the cars, turning them on to run the heat or air-conditioning. When the car companies responded by stashing the keys in a tamper-proof container, the hobos responded by crapping in the cars. I believe the hobos won.

So it's a legitimate phenomenon. And any legitimate phenomenon needs a legitimate name. I would like to propose the following:
spite-shite
n.
Deliberate and malicious defecation.*
Spite-shite - so incredibly awful. And so incredibly effective. Nothing says I hate you like a spite-shite.

* And there are other questions. How is this biologically feasible? How do the spite-shiters defecate at will? Do they postpone going to the bathroom on the chance that they may later become engaged in a conflict that will require a spite-shite? Are these people gifted with extraordinary fecal powers? Is there some primal biological mechanism at work? So much is unknown. Clearly more research is required.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Memphis

We were in Memphis this weekend visiting our darling Maysey (and many other darling people) and attending the opening of her absolutely gorgeous show.

We're back. It was lovely. Thanks, all.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Maps I Would Like to See: Median Lawn Height

I'd like to see a map depicting the median height of lawns throughout New Orleans.

For months after the storm, it hardly rained, and yards throughout the city remained short, scraggly, and brown. But with summer, the rains returned, and the sub-tropical vegetation exploded. Now, in flooded parts of the city, it's common to see formerly manicured lawns grown thick with jungles of weeds standing as tall as a person.

I would expect a rough correspondence between lawn heights and population: short lawns, people are living there; tall lawns, largely uninhabited. But the correlation wouldn't be absolute. Recently I was driving past my cousin's house in Gentilly, a hard hit part of town. Most of the houses are unoccupied (and many will probably remain so). Most of the yards were rough and wild. But at one of the houses, a man was mowing the lawn. The house itself, was clearly empty. There was nobody around to appreciate the well manicured grass. But they were mowing it all the same.

Does the mown lawn indicate an intention to return? A particularly stubborn sense of civic pride? An exceptionally zealous breed of lawn fanaticism? I'm not sure exactly what it means, but I know it means something.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Maps, Maps, and More Maps

Well, I may not have my book of all the Times-Picayune maps, but Mary T. has turned me on to the next best thing, the online archive of all of of the T-P's Katrina-related graphics (including all of the maps). It's a lot of information, but there are some real gems in there.

Oh, and as Howie rightly points out the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center is another excellent source of maps and cool demographic data.

Thanks, all.

When I Dream About the Sleep Fairy

Recently Louise has taken to composing little storybooks, stapling together pieces of paper, drawing the illustrations, and dictating the text to an adult scribe. The topics range from fairies to princesses to custom painted cars to fussy baby sisters. I think they're a hoot. Here's a sample:



When I was sleeping last night I dreamed I was flying with the Sleep Fairy in the dark blue night. I imagined that instead of the night sky we were flying through chocolate and as we were flying we kept eating and eating chocolate.

The End.


I particularly like the little turquoise dream bubbles leading from sleeping Louise up to the fairy in the dark blue night. Where did she pick that up?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Doing It Up in Style

The Lady and I got married exactly eight years ago today on a hot summer evening in Gentilly. Exactly one year ago we were in the throws of refugee-dom and forgot about our anniversary until half-way through the day. (It was also the day we learned for sure that our house had flooded). We "celebrated" with burgers at a random marina bar in southern Alabama.

So this year we're making it right. This year we're doing it up in style with a good dinner in a real restaurant in our beloved home town.

Happy anniversary, darlin'.

Joe Dances




Joe feels so much better, he spontaneously busts into a series of classic N.O. bounce dance moves.*

Ain't life grand?

* Benji, you knew there was simply no way I could refuse your request.

<- Previously on "Joe the Skeleton's Big, Very Exciting Day."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Walk it Like a Dog, Walk it Like a Dog, Walk it Like a Dog, Walk it Like a Dog..."


Mary, DJ Jubilee, and Sarah (and some other people)

Speaking of New Orleans bounce, Sarah had the good fortune of seeing the one and only DJ Jubilee last night, heading downtown with Mary to catch him at the jam-packed and radically unairconditioned Spellcaster Lodge. During the performance, they learned and executed the following dances:
  • The "Walk it Like a Dog"
  • The "Monkey on a Stick"
  • The "Serve It"
  • The "Sissy-boom"
  • The "Get Some"
  • The "Sissy Walk"
  • The "Drive the Car"
  • The "Break It"
  • The "Big Chief"
  • The "Ya!"
  • The "10th Ward"
  • The "Ai-yai-ai-yai-ai-yai-ai"
There were repeated utterances of "wodie"/"whodi", and according to all reports, the extreme fun more than compensated for the severe loss of fluids.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Joe Feels Better



Mmm, that therapy is good stuff. Joe celebrates with some gleeful skipping and a tasty treat.*

* This thing is getting kind of weird. Not that that's a problem. I'm just saying... And how does one draw an imaginary friend? Maybe Fifi needs a hat.

<- Previously on "Joe the Skeleton's Big, Very Exciting Day."

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Waltons

Have I ever mentioned that I (kind of sort of) grew up in Schuyler, VA, home of the Waltons.* I just thought you ought to know. Full disclosure and all.

Good night, John-Boy.

* Oh, wait. I have. Oh, well. It bears repeating. This is important stuff.

Maps I Would Like to See: Everything From the Last Year of the Times-Picayune

In the past year, the T-P has produced some truly excellent maps (and interactive graphics) depicting all aspects of the city's devastation and recovery in the wake of the storm. I would have clipped them all out myself, but there's no more room on my refrigerator.

I would love to see a book compiling them all together. Can somebody make that happen?