Tuesday, April 29, 2008


My submission to Illustration Friday, theme: "wrinkles".

When I'm an old man, I plan to perfect my hollering. (I'll have lots of free time; doddering around on my tricycle won't take all day.)

For the uninitiated, hollering is "a traditional form of communication used in rural areas before the days of telecommunications to convey long-distance messages". Specifically, it's a staggeringly loud series of yodel-like hoots and whoops used to call livestock, signal distress, or irritate your friends and loved ones.

As mentioned before, I used to have a CD aptly named "Hollerin'", recorded in 1975 at the national hollering contest in Spivey's Corner, North Carolina. It was wonderful. (Or at least, I thought it was wonderful. Some people—specifcally, everyone but me—found it unlistenable.) It was packed with all sorts of gems—demonstrations of different hollers for different purposes: pig hollers, fell-down-a-well hollers, Christmas carols rendered hollerin'-style, good stuff.

Unfortunately, the CD was burgled after the storm. (Sarah, did you orchestrate that? You sly devil...) So the high-and-lonesome yelps no longer echo through our house, no longer bring the pigs in to slop, no longer irk the neighbors. The house stands silent (save for the plaintive song of my accordion*). But the day will come when the hollers shall ring out again. OHH wee AHH ohh OOH ahh EEH ahhh....!

*Hmm. Hollerin' with accordion accompaniment? Hmm...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Name Game #4

The faces change. The game remains the same.

What's her name? Extra Credit: What's her deal?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Vive les Brusiers! Circle Bar, Thursday, 7-9pm

flyer by Mary T.

The Bruiser Family Music Hour rolls into the Circle Bar this Thursday, starting promptly at 7pm* and ending promptly at 9pm. (Through some complex Circle Bar logic, we've become the first act in a massive four-band pile-up that evening.)

Bring your Dancin' Shoes and your Hollerin' Hats. We're going to have a good time.

* Or so I say. Does anybody volunteer to be Jason's personal Temporal Assistant, helping him synch the ornate loopty-loops of his Inner Time-scape to the relentless (for-all-practical-intents-and-purposes linear) march of External Time? In particular, can you help him understand that no matter how fast he drives (and he doesn't drive very fast), he can not make it across town in negative twenty minutes? (I kid because I love. Actually, he's getting comparatively punctual in his old age. Comparatively.)

Monday, April 21, 2008


Recently posted on the wall of the downstairs men's bathroom at work:

Can you make that out? Let me help:


If on first try, it doesn't work – feel free to flush and flush again. If it still doesn't work, then you are using too much paper or the wrong kind of paper.

You know who you are!!!!!


Thanks and have a Blessed day.

Allow me to enumerate what I love about this sign:
  • That it's addressed to "ALL MEN", all three-and-change billion of us.
  • Its careful wording, gingerly avoiding any specific scatological references.
  • The faux-polite "feel free to flush".
  • The detailed analysis of problematic paper usage.
  • The sudden change to a more aggressive tone, "You know who you are!!!!!" with five (5!!!!!) exclamation points.
  • The all-caps reiteration of the central theme, "FLUSH, FLUSH, FLUSH!"
  • The wonderfully passive aggressive use of "have a Blessed day,"*—capital "B".
In short, I love pretty much everything about this sign. Flush, flush, flush!

* Not unlike our old friend, "Bless his/her heart."

One Man (and One Skeleton) Band

Marco, when you imagined it, did it look something like this? (I had a hunch you'd involve Joe somehow.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Thing of Wonder: My Accordion

Do you know what I'm loving? My accordion. Isn't it beautiful? The black with gold accents, the pearlescent keys.*

It's far from new. But it's new(ish) to me. It belonged to my uncle, a skilled piano player, then somehow wound up in my parents' attic for many years, and now, has finally found its way into my hands.

It needed some love. Some valves on the bass side were stuck, so whenever I drew the bellows, it played the same discordant pair of notes, which is a problem, unless you're into minimalist monotonic drone-song, which I'm not. But I figured out how to open the beast up (which was surprisingly hard to do but worth it, because its inside is even cooler looking than its outside), rooted around, more or less figured out what was broken, and more or less stopped it from being broken. And now it only plays notes when I press the buttons!

So I'm learning accordion. Slowly.** And I love it.

As does Sarah, of course. Because who doesn't love the (constant) accompaniment of (fumbling, poorly played) accordion. Right, babe? Right? Right...?

* By chance, it precisely matches my guitar, which pleases me.

** Did you know you can learn anything on YouTube: accordion lessons, banjo lessons, throat singing lessons. (Hmm. Accordion, banjo, throat singing... Maybe I can find a way to combine those, forming The World's Most Annoying One Man Band.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Read and (Don't) Respond

My lady is a good lady, but she has one serious flaw:
When she's reading, it's very hard to get her attention.
Her nose is buried in a book. "Hey, babe, do you..." The nose remains buried. "Sarah...?" Nothing. "Sar-uhhhh..." Nope. "SAR-ah!" Finally, the face turns upward. The eyes blink vaguely. "Whuh...?"

And now, I'm afflicted with a second one, a string bean little doppelganger, exactly the same in this regard: Louise. She entered first grade as a minimally literate post-Kindergartner, but in the span of months, has transformed into a voracious, insatiable book hound. (Having read every book on her shelf multiple times, she's now churning through the Harry Potter series—currently on book four—at a far steadier clip than I ever read them.*)

So now, all day long, having exhausted attempts at verbal engagement, I find myself gently turning down her book and telling her: "It's time for breakfast." "It's time for dinner." "It's time to get out of the car." "It's time to cross the street..."

Maybe June will be a flighty, distractible reader like me. I need to have somebody on my side.

* It's vaguely alarming. What's in store for second grade? Proust?

When did school and prison architecture converge? And who thought that was a good idea?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

As requested, more of the local sprunging-of-Spring: Our Confederate Jasmine, which a year ago was a mere sproutling, has gone Jack-and-the-Beanstalk crazy, racing up the electric pole—or, if you prefer, way station on the elevated-rat-highway—in front of our house, bursting with flowers all the way. (Is there Union Jasmine? What's up with that?)

"DO NOT DEMO." How weird, this sequence of events resulting in the need for people to write notes on their homes—Please don't knock down my house. I'm rather fond of it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gladiolas? (Roofs aren't the only things in bloom. Rooves...? Roofs. So when Santa's reindeer land on houses, their hooves clatter on the roofs? Sounds funny. I guess that's why people say "rooftops".) Whoever planted them is long gone. As is the house they planted them in front of.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Name Game #3

More nomenclaturial shenanigans: What's his name?*

* Extra credit: What's his deal?

Friday, April 11, 2008


Friend, in the blogosphere and in life, Ashley Morris died suddenly and unexpectedly on April 2, leaving behind his wife and three young children.* The Times-Picayune paid better tribute than I can. I will simply say that Ashley was a good (and very, very funny) man and a devoted advocate for New Orleans. Ashley, you'll be missed.

* Contributions to help his young family can be made at www.rememberashleymorris.com.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

They're demolishing the old Magnolia Projects down the street from us. The demolition of these and other New Orleans projects has sparked a heated local and national debate, with former residents and advocates arrayed on both sides. My own feelings on the subject are very complicated (and I won't enumerate them here). But politics and policy aside, I'll just say that the sight saddens me. Despite its abundant woes, Magnolia was a vital neighborhood, home to thousands of people, the only home many had ever known. (I've mentioned it before, but this video is an amazing visual document of pre-Katrina Magnolia and its surroundings.) Now the residents are scattered. And now the old buildings lay in heaps. It is, at present, a gaping hole in the heart of the neighborhood. (I'm a sentimentalist. I stole a brick as a keepsake.)

Hello, Neighbor

So the eternal renovation of the house next to us is finally complete, and someone has actually moved in. We actually have people living in an adjacent house.* (One of them. The house on the other side remains a gutted shell.)

Another mini-milestone–how about a round of Sazeracs?

* And they even have a young daughter. Before the storm, there were lots of kids on our street. Since the storm, there aren't nearly as many. We need a few more shrill, giddy, chirping voices.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A more dramatic example of the roof-in-bloom phenomenon. Decay never looked so good. Hmm, maybe that should be our new city motto. (You've seen this house before in a less floral incarnation.)

Ommmm... AAAAAH! Ommmm... AAAAAH!

We took the gals to the park for a pleasant afternoon romp. Sarah and I watched from the bench as they frolicked in the distance: scurrying, climbing, leaping, and jumping, as little urchins are wont to do.

It was time to go. They were engaged with something just out of our sight, shouting and gesticulating happily. As we approached, we saw the objects of their attention: a man and a woman sitting cross-legged in a small grassy patch, just off the main jogging path, meditating.


Louise gushed, "They don't move at all!" June chimed in, "Yeah, I yelled at them at them, and they didn't move!"

Oh. We explained what meditation was and how one shouldn't bother them and... well, let's just get going.*

Do they have screaming kids in Nirvana?

* I confess, I didn't really feel that bad. I'm down with the meditating. And meditating outdoors in some secluded grotto sounds nice. But as I see it, there are two possible reasons for choosing to meditate in the middle of one of the most highly trafficked areas of the park:
  1. They wanted to challenge their skills of concentration, in which case, screaming kids are the ultimate test of their meditative focus.
  2. They wanted everybody to see them meditating, in which case, screaming kids are the perfect karmic antidote to their vainglorious ego-shackled look-at-me-transcend-existence santosha-braggadocio.
(I'm a cynic. I suspect the latter.)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Fulfilling my photos-of-raggedy-ass-houses quota. Note, its roof-full-of-Cat's-Claw is in bloom. Most of the year, Cat's Claw is just a scrabbling, pervasive, but barely noticed weed-vine, but for several weeks in Spring, it blossoms, and all the crumbling, shag-topped houses burst forth in vivid cascades of yellow flowers.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sunday, Central City

Sundays are the big day in Central City in the Spring. Second lines are rolling. The are boys are out cruising in packs of tricked out cars with switchblade doors and massive rims, or motorcycles and four-wheelers, or (curiously) horses. The ladies are out strolling, dressed to impress. Back-of-the truck vendors are hard at work, selling grilled sausages and cold Heinekens. (Some of the more ambitious enterprises even offer a range of mixed drinks, with the choices splayed across the roof of the truck cab.) The whole neighborhood is out—see-and-be-seen.

This past Sunday, our friend Jorin's club, the Revolution, second lined. The weather was perfect. The crowd was huge. The outfits were glorious. I tried to catch some pictures. (Though most of the photos are of the surrounding scene, less of the second liners themselves. The crowds were so thick—and I was encumbered by a sleepy four-year-old perched on my shoulders):

Sharp-dressed youngsters ahead of the second line: the little prep in the foreground, the two young second liners in the back.

It was packed. This was as close as I got to the second liners. (Peach and baby blue—sharp. Note the three-toned hats.)

The Rebirth Brass Band, immediately behind the second liners. Another band headed the procession. (A two-band second line is a big production. The whole thing was a big production. At one point, one of the second liners threw fistfuls of dollars into the crowd.)

Traveling in packs, behind and around the second line.

Showing his best trick for the camera.

I like the surreality of this shot—men casually perched on horses in front of the (recently rebuilt) Melpomene projects in the heart of the city—the weird mix of old and new and urban and other.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


I'm fond of sitting on my front balcony at night, taking in the cool night air, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood... and watching the rats go by on the wires.

Well... rat. Singular. I think. I think it's the same rat that keeps going back and forth on our particular little stretch of elevated-rat-highway.

It scurries in from the right, then pauses at the pole across the street. Against the wood, it's invisible. It waits a minute or two, then scurries rapidly across to the left, disappearing again as the wires get lost in the oak tree at the corner.

A while later, it comes back, scurrying from left to right, again pausing at the pole, and finally racing into the darkness down the street.

What's it doing? What's its rat-ionale? Help! Is there a rat-ologist* in the house?

* What are rat-ologists really called? There must be a word. (And given how much I seem to talk about rats,[1] [2] [3] [4] maybe I should become a that-which-is-not-actually-called-a-rat-ologist.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Look, Ma, I'm Cultcha!

photograph by Sara Roahen

A while back, our darling Sara Roahen interviewed my aunt Annou and I about our Creole* heritage and, specifically, about gumbo. It's part of the Southern Foodway Alliance's Southern Gumbo Trail, a collection of oral histories centered around the dish and the people who make it. Our interview is here:
The Southern Gumbo Trail: Annou and David Olivier
It includes transcripts of our conversation (abridged and full length) and two audio clips, one of Annou explaining how to make a roux and the other of me babbling inarticulately** about what the old family dinners were like.

My contribution was minimal, but Annou relates fascinating details on a broad range of subjects: gumbo, fried chicken, life in the old neighborhood, the nuanced meanings of "creole", complex racial intertwinings, crazy Napoleon-worshipping ancestors buried upright in full military regalia to be ready when the call to battle was sounded again...

I'm glad these stories are being documented. (Thank you, Sara.) Take a look and a listen.

* The word "Creole" causes a lot of confusion and is discussed at length in the interview, but I'll give my brief primer. It's sometimes used specifically to refer to the light-skinned black (or mixed-race) New Orleanians of French, Spanish, and African ancestry. This is a perfectly legitimate usage. But it also, more generally, describes all descendants, black and white, of New Orleans' original colonial settlers. My (white creole) family uses the word in this broader sense. And of course, white and black, we're all cousins. (Creoles are distinct from Cajuns, who didn't directly colonize the city, but migrated to the region from Canada later in the 18th Century and settled mostly in the rural parts of South Louisiana.)

** I'm mortified to discover that I talk like a stuttering valley boy. (Actually, I already knew I talk like a... like... valley boy. As for the stuttering, I confess, the interview made me shy. Not having grown up here, I was always something of an outsider to the Creole world. And though I could recount my memories of childhood visits, I couldn't speak of the old ways with any authority.)