December 22, 2009

Obamacare Kills the Baby Jesus

Like, if an all-knowing and all-powerful god manages to get himself aborted, it isn't his own damn fault?

Or, is that actually the point? Is abortion the new crucifixion? The fetus paraphernalia popping up everywhere says "YES" . . . it's becoming as fetishized as the cross.

According to the logic of the of the anti-abortionist, abortion is actually worse than crucifixion, since the dead babies are completely innocent, and even the Lord Jesus talked sass to some pharisees, killed a fig tree in the desert, and kicked some moneylender ass in the temple.

Actually, someone can clear this up for me: a child is born into original sin, but has the stain of sin removed by baptism, right? So, it stands to reason that the unborn child, having begun his/her life at conception, was actually stained by sin at that very point. The unborn child is not innocent. I have heard the concept, rarely articulated, that there are unborn babies stacking up in purgatory . . .

See here, too, the stain of life . . . Christianity as the anti-human. Anyway, back to the topic . . .

Of course, like most religion, this discussion of original sin is convoluted and ridiculous, mixing seeds of ideas, facts, and concepts with distortion and nonsense. And so, Chuck Norris:

[ . . . ]

I'm not going to quote him. He's a fucking idiot.

The general idea is that baby Jesus, returning to today's America complete with Obamacare, would be aborted before he had a chance to save the world.

Uh, let's see . . .

First, that assumes that Jesus would return to America, and not to his old haunts in the holy land. Of course, any American Christian knows that God will come to the new holy land, America, not Israel, where all those non-believing Jews and Muslims hang out (I'm not kidding, or even exaggerating, about this - go ahead and google it). All those retorts about Israel's healthcare system being more socialist than ours (isn't everybody's?) are beside the point, because he ain't showing up there, he's showing up here.

Second, there's the thing about responsibility. I'm expected by Christians to know that a life of sin will lead me to hell, but all I have on this is their word. Jesus, on the other hand, gets his ass aborted, and we're not blaming him? Sorry, I don't mean to dwell on this.

Let's say that the modern day VM doesn't have quite the emotional support network she needs, but she does have the Chuck Norris-approved pre-Obamacare capitalist healthcare network. So, without Obamacare, there's less of an incentive to abort, right? Well, I'm not sure about that, given the fact that an abortion paid for completely out-of-pocket is still much cheaper than a pregnancy with normal insurance. Add to that the fact that normal insurance doesn't cover any type of counseling that might build our putative VM's confidence to the point that she would have the esteem and support to bring her child to term.

And there's this thing about abortion being fueled by shame. Looks like I gotta go to Chuck after all:

What if that young, poor and uninsured teenage woman had been provided the federal funds (via Obamacare) and facilities (via Planned Parenthood, etc.) to avoid the ridicule, ostracizing, persecution and possible stoning because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy?

"Ridicule, ostracizing, persecution"? Just where in the HELL do you think this comes from? I don't see the pinko commie hippies out on the street dissing pregnant women (okay, maybe a few Maoists). The revulsion toward out-of-wedlock pregnancy in this culture is DIRECTLY attributable to the religious cultural establishment and their horror triggered by anything sexual. I let that Nietzsche reference hang earlier, but the mainstream of Christianity seems, to me, anti-human. Not anti-humanist (as in, against the idea that humanity is the center of the universe), but anti-human (as in, against the human, life-denying). Though every fiber of my upbringing has resisted it, I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is about the flagellation of the self and others. Christianity is about destruction. Not all Christianity . . . but the positive has yet to triumph over the negative. It's a lot closer than the average cocktail-party liberal will admit, but the negative is still in the ascendancy.

It's tempting to try to refute this in healthcare terms but, again, this isn't about healthcare. It's about a bunch of idiots and their relationship to culture, which they define in completely defective terms. I tried to swear off this kind of false discourse earlier, but it seems that I've been sucked back in (Norris = Palin). I apologize, and I promise to do better in the future. But, at the core of all this, is one final point:

There is a logical and reasonable point of view that claims abortion is the destruction of life. It is not a view which can be called either liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. The reason the debate is faulty is that we let people like Chuck Norris and Sarah Palin stand in for the anti-abortion argument, and we let it get accelerated into a cultural discussion in the basest of terms. There are "liberals", "progressives", and even "feminists" who are anti-abortion, and even more who believe that abortion is wrong but should not be subject to the laws of the federal government. These are the true lost souls of this increasingly meaningless debate.

And here we are, with Chuck Norris and Obamacare. Once again, I feel the need to simultaneously apologize and point out that it's not my fault. But, we know it is. Sorry about that. I'll do better next time.

December 19, 2009

The 49th Revolution

Ah, the years keep rolling on. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was . . .

We were supposed to get a couple inches today, but the temperature never dropped below 37 degrees, and the rain never changed over to snow. I know I'm getting old because I'm okay with that: when I was a kid, I loved the snow, but there's something about a 100 mile roundtrip commute that dims your enthusiasm for snow.

Sharri and I got into a new (rental, for the time being) house this year, a move that was long overdue. In ten years on Adams Street, we paid enough rent to cover the original purchase price of the duplex we rented (both of them - the whole house, that is). Not to mention the fact that the small one bedroom took on the aspect of a maze by the time we moved out. I tell you what, me and my darling had a ton of shit. But now we are in a house that is very close to being my dreamhouse . . . closer than I expected to get. It's a great place, and we are very happy to be there.

This year was not enough time on the bike, not enough time in the gym, not enough time playing music live. It's funny how much I miss the gym, I just have to get off my ass and go. As far as the bike, I've spent a bit of time tooling around Germantown, but I really need to get back on the paths. I miss tearing through Portland as fast as my Schwinn Varsity and middle-aged body will let me.

The music will take care of itself. It always does. I actually turned down more shows than I played this year. One promise: the rise of Black Kaspar.

More broke than last year, but no big deal . . . otherwise, more of the same. Those big changes predicted last year didn't quite come through - things happen, you deal with it, you move forward.

I am now officially bearing down on the big 50. No promises, no predictions, except for that one about Black Kaspar. Maybe next year I'll write something a little more interesting than this post card. Until then, love to you all. You all keep me from going crazy.

December 13, 2009


Not trying to turn this into a sports blog, but . . . Really? Jonathan Bender's back? Great guy, loads of talent, bad knees, big bust. He was never close to 100% at any time with the Pacers. Even so, he did show occasional flashes of brilliance.

I know that three years off can do wonders for healing an injured body, but it was my understanding that he had no cartilage left in his right knee, or something like that. It seemed like they were worried more about him walking without canes than they were about him playing basketball by the time he retired at the tender age of 25. And now, you're telling me he's ready to go again?

This is not the story of an athlete whose sport was his entire life. Quite the contrary, in fact: Bender was a busy man when he left the game and, unlike most "entrepreneurs" who use their fame and rudimentary business skills to line their own pockets, he was as interested in helping others as he was in getting rich.

Well, he's a good guy, and I'm rooting for him. Good for him, and good on Donnie Walsh for giving him another chance. Lord knows he had skills, so if he actually has his knee back, we may see quality minutes out of him.

I just hate having any reason to root for the Knicks.

December 8, 2009

A Recipe for Robbie

I'm not much of a cook. The stuff I make is edible, and sometimes pretty good, but only sometimes. I'm good enough that I could improve on about half the "casual dining" meals I eat, but not so good that anyone would go out of their way to eat my cooking. I watch the Food Channel just like I used to read Hot Rod magazine: that is, if I ever become one of the idle rich, I'll roll up to the farmer's market in a cherry '69 Goat & go home & whip up Sharri a real Hot Brown. In the meantime, I'll settle for my Maxx and the po' boy Hot Browns I throw down on Thanksgiving. I'd love to have FRESH INGREDIENTS and all the time and tools in the world to be a badass cook, but it ain't happenin' . . . and yeah, I know that the guitar doesn't make the guitarist, but you do tend to get just a little circumscribed by the contents of both your wallet and the Kroger across the street. In the best of all possible worlds, the stuff would go straight from the fields to a roadside stand very close to my house and be affordable to boot, but this is very far from the best of all possible worlds. Besides, it seems to me that such concerns have lately taken on a bit of a bourgeois tinge . . . are you listening, Anthony Bourdain?

With that in mind, here's a chili recipe. I adapted it from a South Beach black bean turkey chili recipe (rendered immediately non-carb friendly with the addition of beer). It's not Bobby Flay good, but it's not bad. The main thing is that it is quick, easy, and super cheap, especially if you leave out the beer. You can whip this up in about ten minutes, and let it cook for as little as twenty (a little more is better). Is it good eats, Alton? Who knows, and who cares. It's better than spaghetti O's, cheaper than McDonald's, and healthier than Taco Bell. This is how I eat.


1 lb. ground turkey
2 fresh jalapenos, seeded, deviened, and diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 4 oz. cans of diced jalapenos
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
2 14 oz cans tomatoes, undrained
1 16 oz jar chunky salsa
2 15 oz cans black beans, rinsed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
1 tablespoon onion powder
half a beer (approx. 6 oz)

Put oil in large fryer over medium heat. Add garlic and diced fresh jalapenos; “sweat” them (sauté for approx. 3-5 minutes, DO NOT LET GARLIC BROWN). Add ground turkey, cook until just brown. Add one 4 oz. can of jalapenos, stir together. Add tomatoes, salsa, black beans, stir together, increase heat, bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, add soy sauce, salt, and spices, stir together, cover. Cook at least 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beer (to brighten flavor) and, if you like your chili on the hot side, add the second 4 oz. can of diced jalapenos. Cook covered, stirring frequently, for another 20 minutes.

NOTES: The salsa you use for this recipe is very important, since it provides much of the flavor base. Keep in mind that good “chip salsa” is not necessarily the best salsa for this recipe. So far, the best salsa I’ve used is Kroger’s “Private Stock” Chipolte Salsa (medium heat).

Avoid extra additives to your canned tomatoes (such as onions or peppers), since there is already a wide variety of spices in this recipe.

Use a “bright flavored” beer for this recipe, such as a pale ale (Sierra Nevada Celebration ale worked very well). A darker, “chewy” beer such as Guinness would not work as well.

This is a relatively hot (spicy) recipe. For those of you with more sensitive constitutions, it tastes OK without any of the peppers.

December 5, 2009

The One Who Shouldn't Have Been Fired

Two get axed, but one should have been spared . . . so long Steve Kragthorpe, we hardly knew ya.

The thing that amazes me about the U of L fans is their sense of entitlement. One expects to fight against that arrogance at "legendary" Notre Dame. But what is it about the tenures of John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino that makes the Cardinal faithful think that they are a football destination ("whooo hooo! we beat Miami in a bowl game once!!)? Louisville is nothing more than a stop on the way to the top echelon of football, and just like Smith and Petrino, any "up and comer" is going to treat it that way, unless he is a guy of uncommon character.

Which Steve Kragthorpe is. He had a chance to bail on a bad situation and take an SMU job for similar money and less pressure, but he gave his word to U of L, so he stuck it out. He took over a program specifically designed to be a resume bauble for John L and Bobby, and tried to turn it into a true program instead of a couple flashy teams. He started doing the hard work, weeding out the bad elements, hard-wiring recruiting circuits, and trying to build a lasting foundation. All the while, U of L fans acted like Notre Dame fans, screaming for the head of their "mediocre coach" in order to restore "pride in their program" . . . like the house of Cards built by Smith and Petrino was anything to be proud of.

Three years, and Kragthorpe's gone. He left with the same honesty and class with which he entered: while being forthright about the obvious fact that three years is not enough time to do the job he was asked to do, he nonetheless refused to incriminate the university ("that's just the way coaching is these days - if you want to coach, you have to live with that."). He will find himself in another good situation soon, hopefully in a place out of the line of fire of idiots like the ones who pushed him out of Louisville.

Louisville AD Tom Jurich can still come out of this looking good by hiring Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. U of L, given its history as the black alternative to the University of Kentucky, would look good with a black head coach, and lord knows there needs to be more black coaches in BCS college football. I only hope that Jurich deals with Strong better than he dealt with Kragthorpe.

November 22, 2009

Charlie Weis Must Go - Now!

"You are what you are, folks, and right now you're a 6-5 football team. And guess what? That's just not good enough. That's not good enough for you, and it's certainly not going to be good enough for me." -- Charlie Weis, five years ago, upon being hired as the new Head Football Coach at Notre Dame

"If they decide to make a change, I'd have to say I'd have a tough time arguing with that. If they decide to make a change, I'd have a tough time arguing that because 6-5 is not good enough, especially when you've lost five games by a touchdown or less and several three-point games that went right down to the wire. My intent is to be here. But if that were the rationale, I mean it would be tough for me to argue with that point." -- Charlie Weis on Sunday, after an overtime loss to UConn dropped the Irish to 6 - 5.

NBC, sensing (and adding to) the writing on the wall, ran the clip from Weis's introductory press conference toward the end of the UConn debacle. It was a nice move on NBC's part, hoisting Weis on his own petard, as it were.

That's at the core of the whole Weis problem: his Parcells/Belichick - bred arrogance cast him as a make-or-break proposition. And Weis broke. Now, it's time for him to go. What's more, Weis needs to be the one to resign. He can't wait for Swarbrick to fire him. He needs to announce his resignation effective at the end of the season, and he needs to do it before the Stanford game. It's the only way to put any kind of positive spin on his lackluster tenure at his alma mater.

Under different circumstances, he might have one more year. He has great people going into their senior years at his offensive skill positions, including the nation's best quarterback (Jimmy Clausen), one of the best all-purpose ballhandlers in the nation (receiver/returner/wildcat back Golden Tate), and a very solid running back (Armando Allen). They also have potentially the best tight end in the nation (a freaky talented Kyle Rudolph), and one of the best new-school wide receivers (Michael Floyd). The O-line is a bit more problematic, but there seems to be enough underclassmen in rotation to get the job done as well as it was this year (frankly, the O-line was good this year, but they should have been dominant). And the defense? Well, the defense sucks anyway, so you have to figure that they can assemble something better, no matter what they have to start with. If there can be an arguement made for retaining Weis, there is no reason that co-Defensive Coordinators Corwin Brown and John Tenuta get one more year in South Bend.

I know that, last year, I said Weis should have only one more year. However, if I'm the AD, I'm looking at a team which should have been a top-ten team that is returning some absolutely ridiculous talent. A new head coach virtually assures that a senior-heavy lineup will be wasted, even if they actually hung around . . . and if my name is Clausen, Tate, Floyd, or Rudolph, I'm gone. So that, at least, is an argument for retaining Weis.

On the other hand, there is the dick-swinging that Weis has done since day one. That introductory press conference pretty much seals his fate. Sure, 6 - 5 sucks, but maybe you get forgiven for 6 -5 if you don't set that as the mountain you die on.

So Swarbrick is essentially in an untenable position. The best option for next year is to keep Weis, since that represents the best possible outcome for the next season. And the payoff could be substantial: the talent is top ten, even if the coaching hasn't been even close to that level. On top of that, a coaching change virtually guarantees another mediocre season. But it was Weis himself who set the bar, and he has failed. Swarbrick will be hung out to dry if he dares retain Weis. He has to fire Weis. He has no choice.

This whole thing goes back to the firing of Ty Willingham. If that fiasco had been handled properly, then Swarbrick would have room to operate. But, Willingham was fired prematurely, so there is a heightened situation for Swarbrick and Weis to deal with. And, of course, Weis himself added to the problem with his aforementioned dick-swinging. It is completely fair to point out that Weis's .573 winning percentage is worse than Willingham's (and Davie's) .583. And given Weis's arrogance, he has to be held accountable.

There are a lot of things that Weis has done right at Notre Dame, and they are important things: Notre Dame's graduation rate is even better now than the high standards set previously. His recruiting classes have been the best Notre Dame has seen since the '80's, and he hasn't had the same "character questions" that floated around the Holtz teams. The Weis teams have all represented Notre Dame in the best possible manner off the field.

And yet, that isn't enough. Why? Because of the arrogance of Weis himself. The only way this will end acceptably is if Weis announces his resignation this week.

November 14, 2009

More Free Hoosier Pete Downloads

Let's face it: I'll never get around to selling this stuff on my own. So here it is, free of charge . . .

The Portland L.P.


The Drunkard's Lament E.P.

Enjoy! And, while you're there, surf around the Indiana Musical Family Tree. It's a really fun little network.

Of course, the Swirling Gingerbread River E.P. is available right on this here blog. Collect all three!


November 8, 2009

Your Virtual Mexican Vacation

Any moment, the snow will start to swirl around your window (ok, it's 75 degrees here today, but I'm looking at the calender, not out the window). The holidays are just around the corner, and since you probably work a shitty service industry job, that means as the days get shorter, your hours get longer . . . and, what's more, everyone thinks you're a perfect whipping boy/girl for their own holiday neuroses ("feel slighted and embarrassed because the boss didn't invite you to his Christmas party this year? Take it out on that sap behind the counter!"). What you need is a vacation, and now! Not after the fifteenth of January, you won't get any vacation then either, 'cause your boss is going on vacation first, then there's inventory, then there's those big mandatory work sales they run in the depths of the winter to try to make their first quarter numbers, etc. You need to get away NOW! But of course, you're going nowhere, because you can't quit your job, and even if you could, you couldn't afford to go anywhere. So, here you go - a virtual Mexican vacation!

First, download this photo and set it as the wallpaper on your laptop:

Done? Good. Now charge that sucker up, and head out to your favorite Mexican restaurant. Of course, the food at the average Mexican restaurant has little to do with real Mexican food, but what do you care? You're an American! And besides, there's margaritas! After the third one, you won't even care that the average Mexican has never tasted a margarita, at least not until he/she got to the U.S. As an added bonus, there will be plenty of "Mexican music" caterwauling over the speakers in the restaurant to get you in the mood. You're that much closer to your Mexican paradise! Just don't forget the margaritas!

When you get home (take a cab, for the love of god! How many margaritas have you had, anyway? Three? Four?), by all means continue your virtual Mexican getaway. First, fire up some authentic Mexican music on the Victrola (my choice is a little number called The Roots of the NarcoCorrido on Arhoolie, a nice little collection that provides a scholarly context for the current rage in Mexican music, the NarcoCorrido . . .). Fire up the ol' video machine and load up Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart. Then, pick up a book or two. Start out with Richard Grant's travelogue, God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre. It is a spellbinding read and, as an added bonus, when you finish you will understand why a virtual vacation is probably preferable to a real one these days.

If one book is good, more are better. Keeping to the same mood, why not roll with Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy: All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain? And, while you're at it, go ahead and tack on McCarthy's addendum to the trilogy, No Country for Old Men. When you finish that then, by all means, roll the Coen brother's movie - though it doesn't add to the novel, the photography has a degenerate glory, and Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and especially Javier Bardem are fantastic here. A first rate crime thriller, indeed!

By the time you are done, you will have had a lovely Mexican (Sonoran?) vacation. All from the comforts of your home. And, as a bonus, you haven't had your gringo ass shot or kidnapped! Bonus!

Well, that's it for my virtual Mexican vacation. Of course, not all of Mexico is a narcotraficante's paradise, where life has no meaning and death, sometimes, has a price. There are also the beautiful tourist traps built for the gringos . . . but hey, if you wanted to go to South Beach, then you would have gone there, right? Anyway, for all my Mexico fans out there, lay some comments onto this blog to suggest your own virtual Mexican vacations (Tucson posse, I'm looking at you). Until then . . .

November 6, 2009

The Reset Button

Those of you who actually follow this spiel may be noticing a little difference lately (compared to last year): fewer posts, more (MUCH more) poetry. This isn't really by design, but there are a couple reasons for the current state of affairs.

First, I've been writing a lot of poetry lately. I've always scrawled lines in notebooks, and sometimes strung the lines together, but I've had the tendency to edit them into oblivion in the past. I'm making more of a commitment to my poetry these days - get the poems out into the open instead of throwing them away or deleting them like I used to do. This means that a few stinkers creep out, and a lot of stuff that is going to go through a lot of changes, but that's ok. There's some stuff here that really makes me happy as well.

Second, I was starting to descend into the lie of the dialectic, especially as it applied to American politics. I had a bunch of half-formed bullshit sitting in my "drafts" box that I finally just deleted. The crash and burn of the public political dialogue almost sucked me in, but in the end, pointing out the obvious stupidity of T-baggers who show up to protests with signs saying things such as "KEEP THE GOVERNMENT'S HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE" isn't worth the time or effort. You just get sucked into pointless conversations, and the level of discourse sinks down to the ridiculous. I'll leave that shit up to Rachel Maddow.

That doesn't mean that I'm becoming apolitical by any stretch of the imagination - it's just that I hope to rescue the political from the base "politics" dialectic that has become institutionalized in our crass culture . . . at least as far as it pertains to my writing. I'll probably still occasionally visit overtly political topics, but more of my stuff will be political in the sense that "Crescent" was political. We'll see how that works out.

And now, I hit the RESET button.

November 3, 2009

A Long, Long Way From May to December

the rain turns the Kroger lot to a lake
halo'd red double dragon, nail, ear,
red and green light, Christmas every day,
life in death
life to death
the dying, the autumn of the year . . .

songs now plaintive whispers
moans coming from deep within the season
Ask the Ages
jazz called free but fettered
by the weight of life lived
a song of cold smoke fog
and autumn

life drying up, the battle joined,
life, death, battle's bitter fruit
fear -
fear creeping cold
curling around the soul like smoke
like traffic threading central Kentucky knobs
relentlessly onward . . .

frozen, as if out of time
today is the first day of something
today is a marker of nothing
today is just another day
today spins forward and backward
leaves fall, trees turn to black
the lawns die, the earth turns

how many twists are left
under this low sky
another autumn, another spring . . .

fog like cold smoke out of trees
belies the heat of the funeral pyre
what lives, what dies,
in the rustic brown of autumn?

October 16, 2009


Two years ago, Sharri and I got a chance to visit New Orleans. I'm
feeling a bit nostolgic, so I decided to republish my travelogue.

Crescent I

We began our descent into New Orleans just after midnight central time Wednesday night / Thursday morning. We dropped through the clouds over Lake Pontchartrain to the swell of Dawn Upshaw's voice, the city a constellation below us. Obviously, I don't fly much, but this vision, like a sunset, sometimes can be accelerated beyond the cliche it has become. It's about the ordinary magic of arrival first, but more than that, it was the beautiful city on the banks of Pontchartrain & the Mississippi, and the incredible majesty of the third movement of Gorecki's Third Symphony. It was quite an entrance. We got to the airport in Louisville at about 4:30 for a 6:15 flight to Chicago. We arrived at the gate to find out that the flight had been delayed. At a little after 7:00, they loaded us onto the EMB170 shuttle liner, pulled away from the gate . . . and parked. We sat in that damn plane for over two hours before we finally flew out. Fortunately, the flight crew, a couple sisters from Chicago, kept the passengers in line (sample exchange: "Another hour? Can I at least get a beer? Whadya have to do to get a beer around here?" "Well, you can start by asking politely." "Okay, can I please have a beer?" "Sure thing, sweetheart." "How much are they?" "For you, 50 bucks."). Any of the other crews on the four planes we rode this trip would have been eaten alive after the second delay announcement. The guy behind me was the one whining about the beer, and at some point he started asking about jello shots. I wanted to turn around and say "geez, what the hell? Are you a sorority girl, or what?" I contained myself to keep the peace. That, and my Tri-delt wife would have smacked me in the head. Surely we were screwed. Landing at O'Hare approximately an hour and a half after the scheduled departure of our New Orleans flight, all we could do is haul ass across the concourse and hope the flight had been delayed. Shockingly enough (or perhaps not) the flight had been delayed, so we actually made it. This time, we had a nice comfy 737 with a fairly sparse population. We despaired of actually getting our luggage, but we were on our way. Hanging in the Louisville terminal, I rocked MF Doom's Operation: Doomsday. When I got on the plane for the interminable wait, I switched over to Lotte Lenya singing Kurt Weil, but that wasn't working, so I switched to Mahler's Ninth, which seemed to work out nicely. That got me to Chicago. By the time I got to Chicago, I killed the battery on my Samsung (I'm not used to recharging it regularly), so I switched over to my Motorola SLVR L7 phone, which has a mini ("100 songs") ipod. I had a "classical" playlist loaded, so I fired that up. Working through Partch, Schoenberg, Ligeti, Morton Feldman's "Jackson Pollock" series, Debussy's La Mer, Charles Ives's Fourth Symphony, I wound up with the third movement of Gorecki's Third Symphony. In these sort of rote situations, escaping into a playlist is necessary, be it Ives on an airplane or Lightning Bolt on the bike. Even when it's not rote, it's nice to have a soundtrack. Deplaning in NOLA after the reverse aerial show, we were shocked to find our bags had made it with us. A-and, they hadn't given away our hotel room! A nice bit of luck. We found ourselves at the Sheraton downtown. Here is the view from our window on the 46th floor:


or, here's this angle:


After we got the bags up to the room, Sharri moved our stuff into the drawers - it's a nice touch, like you belong more than you would if you just lived out of the duffel bag. We oohed and aahed over the view a little bit, found ESPN on the hotel's cable, and then got down to the last serious business of the day: finding a bottle of whiskey for the nightcap. There were several places open close by (I didn't realize until the next day that we were on the edge of the French Quarter), so I naturally went for the place that had big neon letters advertising LIQUOR LUGGAGE (??!!) and SOUVENIRS. Not a big selection for a bourbon snob close to Bourbon Street . . . the Wild Turkey was outragousely priced, as was the Makers Mark (they were both the same, but I'm perhaps the only person alive who thinks Wild Turkey 101 is as good as Makers), and, of course, Jim Beam earns an extra five just for the label. I settled on an $18 750 ml of Evan Williams, which is $8 more than I would have paid at home, but it was the best deal behind the counter. Bottle in hand, I scurried back up to the 46th floor, grabbed the icebucket, cursed the non-functioning icemaker down the hall, dropped down to the 45th floor via the stairway, iced up, and ran back up to the room to pour my four fingers. After pouring my drink, I stripped down and jumped into bed. A cold sweating glass of not-so-cheap whiskey in my hand, I laid back to Sports Center and, in a very short time, sleep. At last glance, the clock registered 2:15 am Central Time.


next installment: Argentina? You Speak Spanish? Como Whatever? or How Much For That Stripper in the Window?

Crescent II

We found out in a few short hours that our room was facing East – having left our window shades wide open, we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise over Algiers & the Mississippi River. It would have been more appreciated a few hours later. I blindly stumbled to the window to close the shades, opening the louvers a bit to allow thin beams of light into the room. There were still a couple hours before the travel alarm on the table was set to go off, so I drifted back to sleep in the diffuse red light of the bayou dawn. Soon the alarm rang, and I coaxed Sharri out of bed to get her to her morning seminar. This was, of course, a business trip for her. I drifted back and forth over the line of sleep while she took her shower and left the room. I got up, opened the window blinds a tad bit wider to let more light in the room, and settled back in to snooze with Sports Center on the TV. I finally pulled myself out of bed a bit after 10 am., threw on some clothes, and pulled back the window shades. The view looked like this:


and like this


There was a little four-cup coffee maker in the room, so I decided to brave the Maxwell House pre-measured coffee pack. Surprisingly, it turned out a right drinkable cup of coffee, though I did have to decrease the water by a quarter. Two coffees down and one for the road, I was out the door, down the elevator, and through the revolving front door into the street. "The street", of course, being Canal Street. I didn't really have time to get lost, since I had to be back at the Sheraton by 12:30 to grab lunch with Sharri. I decided to while away what was left of the morning with one of my favorite Louisville pastimes, hanging down by the river. There was a river walk / bike path that wound down in front of the Aquarium and off to the north, so I followed it for a short while. Tourists wandered up and down the path, the locals jogging and on their bikes, and big tankers chugged on the river.


An African-American gentlemen on the river walk spotted my Argentina soccer T-shirt: "Argen-TINA! ARGENTINA?! HEY ARGENTINA, WHASSUP?" I smiled and nodded as if I spoke no English. "ARGENTINA! COMO ES? YOU SPEAK SPANISH, NO? MANU GINOBILI?" I nodded and walked on. Wandering past a tourist trap / shopping center, I noticed some interesting architecture down the side street.


As I walked up and got a closer look, I thought "this must be the same kind of architecture they have in the French Quarter."


After walking a few more blocks, I passed a club called One Eyed Jack's. Quintron and Miss Pussycat were on the schedule, but long after we were to leave. A couple more blocks, I crossed Bourbon Street. I'll be damned if I wasn't already in the French Quarter. It was coming up on noon, and by this point, I had wandered a short way away from the hotel. I headed back toward the hotel on Bourbon. The shops and bars were just starting to sleepily open up, shutters and doors open to the street, a kaleidoscope of music blowing through mid-heavy speakers . . . zydeco, old school R & B, some Village People from a joint sporting a disco ball and a rainbow flag, even some Slim Harpo from what appeared to be the most obviously corporate tourist trap I had yet seen . . . the French Quarter opening up for business as noon blushed upon the clock dial. Sharri hit my cell as soon as I came back up on Canal. She had eaten breakfast at the hotel, and the experience was not a good one. Moreover, she had been warned away from the lunch offered at the conference. She wanted a decent lunch, and I wanted an oyster po' boy. Back in 1990 I made my first trip to NOLA, and my two most lasting impressions were oyster po' boys and the amazing plethora of really good drummers in the high school jazz bands at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Back at the hotel, Sharri and I hooked up and headed back into the French Quarter for lunch. We stopped at a place on a corner that was mostly empty and ordered up. She ordered a shrimp po' boy, and I ordered my oyster po' boy, and we ordered blackened alligator for an appetizer. Turns out the alligator was really good, but the po' boys were mediocre at best. Honestly, the oyster po' boy at Carolina Shrimp & Seafood in St. Matthews is better than this one, and that is just wrong. Even if the lunch wasn't bad, it was a dissapointment. After scanning the Times - Picayune (Pacers beat Hornets! Jeff Foster on page one of the sports section! Why do the Saints suck this year when the same team was so good last year?), we headed back to the Sheraton so Sharri could catch her afternoon seminars. On the way back down Chartres, we ran across our first street musicians in Jackson Square in front of St. Louis cathedral. A bass player and a trumpeter, nice funky little jazz duo, pretty good and pretty much what you would expect in the streets of the French Quarter. We didn't really have time to hang out and listen, so we hotfooted it back to the hotel and made it for Sharri's afternoon with a few minutes to spare. I want back up to the room and fired up another one of those mini-pots of Maxwell House, flipped on ESPN, and kicked back to consider my afternoon.


next installment: Exactly What Constitues '"Live Sex"? or Maybe the Saints Suck Because Drew Brees Telegraphs His Passes Like You Telegraphed That Last Chord Change

Crescent III

After a couple more cups of coffee, I left the hotel for another, more leisurely survey of the French Quarter. I decided to follow Chartres northeast to (what I determined to be) the edge of the Quarter, then walk back in towards Canal, zigging and zagging, catching what sites I could. The far end of the Quarter is residential and queer. It was somewhere around two in the afternoon, still early for the Quarter, apparently. There was still a slow late-a.m. sort of vibe flowing, with people visiting, lounging, sipping coffee, and hanging out front of their homes/shops/bars, engaged with the day's business, but only barely. Obviously, the real estate is expensive and specialized here, so while the expected bohemian vibe exists, it's a moneyed bohemian vibe, which isn't the kind of bohemian vibe I'm used to.



These are examples of the famous houses internationally associated with the French Quarter. Down at the far end, the Quarter is a friendly urban neighborhood, chatting happily along amongst the rainbow flags, quick with a nod to the solitary tourist.




Moving in towards the heart of the Quarter, little grocery stores are the first shops to appear, all listing homemade specials such as red beans and rice, meatloaf sandwiches, and muffuletas. Probably the biggest mistake I made was not eating at one of these little groceries when I had the chance.

Fairly quickly, commerce thickened the streets. All the shops and bars were open to the street, all were blowing music. Pretty quickly you realize that most of these little shops are variations on a theme, almost as if there was a central planner who made sure all the businesses were interconnected. All the merchandise looked more or less the same. Virtually all the T-shirts were the same, and Katrina was much in evidence: "Drove my Chevy to the levee and the levee was gone", "FEMA evacuation plan: run bitch run", "FEMA = Find Every Mexican Available", as well as the usual jazz/blues and libertine-themed shirts. The music pouring out of the shops was usually some variation of zydeco, and unlike the usual stereos you find in retail establishments, most of the speakers pumping the thump weren't your garden variety shelf-system plastic boxes, or even mid-sized wood-boxed home stereo speakers. No, they were filling the street with honest-to-god no-nonsense PA speakers . . . these people don't fool around: the barrage of music is part of their merchandising plan, so they need serious equipment. And, a good number (a small majority, in my very unscientific strolling survey) were staffed with folk who appeared to be owner/operators and were of . . . ah . . . of Asian descent, primarily Indian, Bengali, or Pakistani, if I am not mistaken. Oh, those damned stereotypes. The bars were opened too, some of them with counters tucked just inside street fronting french doors, where you could just walk up, grab a beer, and be on your way through the street.

Mixed in amongst the more obvious tourist traps were some more interesting/less crassly exploitative shops, including three used bookstores I found. The selection in the first was OK, the second pretty good, and excellent in the third. In all three cases, the prices were ridiculously high (I'm used to ½ cover price at the very high end, and all the used books here were priced at ¾ cover, and bunch were priced as borderline collectible even though I couldn't see the value) . . . or at least I thought they were, until I realized that I was shopping used book stores in some of the most expensive real estate in the US, so more power to them and their power pricing. In the best of the three bookstores, I was privy to a conversation between the owner and a tourist customer from Indiana. Turns out Vincennes (IN) was the owner's refuge from Katrina, and he spoke of Indiana ("beautiful country") as some exotic, if minor, little parcel of paradise. Native hoosier that I am, I'm generally don't get to hear outsider's opinions of our litte cornfield in the Midwest, and it was interesting to hear my home described in such admirable terms. I almost emerged from behind the "Beats" stack to spring yet another Hoosier on him, but I avoid conversations like that as a rule. But hey, that registered at least a 6 on the small world scale . . .

I also found a decent record store that had a huge selection of native Louisiana acts, as well as a big vinyl selection. There were plenty of art galleries, from "fine" art to folk art, and I spent some time cruising them, but with my critical functions shut down. I've not found myself in the mood to pick fights over visual art lately: I'm picking far too many other fights, and I'm just not young enough to keep up with them any more.

Of all the shops we strolled through, probably our favorite shop was a "big girls" clothing store. Cool, unusual stuff, reasonable prices . . . too bad we were traveling broke.

Rolling down Bourbon Street toward the Canal Street end, the sex joints started popping up. At first, I appreciated the existence of the strip clubs . . . there needed to be some true libertinism in the American home of license, and none of that Las Vegas Disneyland crap, either . . . but, at second glance, even their seediness seemed calculated. And, sure enough, pretty soon the corporate strip joints started popping up: I think there were three different Hustler places, each themed slightly differently, such as the "18-19 year old" joint, and maybe a Penthouse or Playboy club too, I can't remember. Tucked in amongst the corporate strip joints was an older, more authentic-looking club that advertised "LIVE SEX ACTS!", which initially piqued my curiosity . . . given the weird sex club laws around here in Louisville, which in turn are more liberal than the sex club restrictions most any other place I've been, I wondered just what kind of live sex would be on stage . . . but, I had to figure this was just another New Orleans street hustle. Underneath all this "reality" was a sort of Cracker Barrel authenticity, and it was no more legitimate for being detailed, complex, and self-aware . . . as I said earlier, even the most outwardly corporate looking store I saw had the awareness to be pumping Slim Harpo into the street.

Eventually, I wound up back on Canal. It was a slight relief . . . at least if the shops on Canal were over-the-top tourist traps, they were off the French Quarter planogram ("LIQUOR LUGGAGE SOUVINEERS"). There was a little more than an hour before I was scheduled to meet Sharri back at the room, but I really had nothing else to do for the afternoon, so I headed back to the Sheraton. Back at the room, I turned ESPN back on (my current tranquilizer of choice) and fired up yet another short pot of coffee. This time I decided to hit the Evan Williams for a nice little smoothing effect for the afternoon, as well as a tonic for the evening. I ducked down a floor to pick up more ice, came back, loaded up my glass, covered the ice cubes with bourbon, poured a coffee chaser, and settled in for Around the Horn, PTI, or some other such sport silliness. Before long, Sharri was back, and we headed down to the lounge for another drink, then out with the Louisville Habitat contingent for dinner. We wound up back in the French Quarter at Deanie's Seafood. It was a bit of a wait, but that was mellowed by Abita's Fall Ale and some seasoned potatoes from the seafood boil. When the food finally came, the others were favorably disposed to their dishes, but not exactly blown away. I, on the other hand, had a completely ass-kicking bowl of crawfish etoufee. It was my first truly satisfying New Orleans food experience, but by this point I wasn't even looking for New Orleans food experiences anymore, because I was caught in riptides of NOLA hype and decadent simulated realities . . . so Emeril, John Goodman, Dan Ackroyd, and everybody else, leave me the hell alone.

After dinner, Sharri and I wandered along the riverfront, enjoying a fresh breeze off the Mississippi. By this time, all the shops along the river were closed, so we just cruised along and watched the boats on the river. At some point we had to use the bathroom, so we ducked into the Harrods casino to relieve ourselves. It took us forever to find a bathroom, and then another forever to actually get back out of the stupid casino (they're designed that way, you know . . . all paths lead back to the gaming floor, and there's no external atmosphere to be seen). I felt almost lucky to make it out alive.

Walking back to the hotel, we passed my favorite street musician of the whole trip: a black man who looked to be somewhere between 45 and 55 was sitting across from the hotel, riffing over the top of a rhythm guitar loop he had most likely recorded himself. He was not dressed in authentic simulation street blues costume: he was instead wearing unfaded blue jeans and a short sleeved navy blue collared shirt. He wasn't playing a strategically worn archtop acoustic, a Stella, or a vintage resonator guitar, or even a Tele through an old 15-watt tube amp. No, he was playing a BC Rich Warlock through a sampler into a self-amplified speaker. It was so inauthentic, it had to be real. There was no trace of awareness, either in his comport or his riffing: it was beautiful, simple, unadorned, and real . . . and actually more Chicago than New Orleans. We drifted in his orbit for a few minutes, enjoying the riffage, slipped him a short fistful of ones, and headed back to the room.

Back at the room, we poured ourselves drinks, and settled in for the night relatively early. It had been an interesting day in New Orleans.

next installment: Do You Have a Permit for that Tattoo? or You Do Know That's the Black Section of Town, Don't You?

Crescent IV

In my book, the Sheraton is a fairly classy joint. That probably says more about the dives that I tend to stay in when I travel (when I don't camp, or just sleep in the car) than it does about the Sheraton. But, why does the food have to suck? Like papa used to say, do it or don't do it, just don't half ass it.

Anyway, Friday morning required food at the outset, and not at the hotel. René (one of my work pals and a Katrina refugee) had recommended a place called Mother's on Poydras for po' boys, but breakfast was required, and it was a short walk from the hotel. Tucked away in an old building at the corner of Poydras and Tchoupitoulas, Mother's has that "local legend" feel, replete with celeb (varyingly obscure) photos, carefully nurtured patina, unique rituals involving ordering and etiquette, and a gift shop. The place was known for its breakfasts as well as its po' boys, so it was crowded, mostly with locals. We didn't have a lot of time or money, so we kept it simple: scrambled eggs, sausage, grits, and toast. I got coffee, and it turned out to be chicory coffee. I had a roommate back in the day who was all about everything N'awlins, and he always drank chicory coffee black. I hated that coffee. I always thought that chicory was something you put in coffee to stretch it out when you were short. Apparently, the locals drink their coffee with chicory even when coffee is plentiful. The guy running the counter had me pegged for a northerner the minute I opened my mouth, so when I ordered coffee black, he very helpfully informed me that it was chicory coffee. I knew that meant I was in for a super bitter ride, but I wouldn't know how to mix it down properly anyway, so "bring it on" was all I had to offer.

Our breakfasts were just fine. As far as basic scrambled eggs go, they're either right or they're wrong, and these were right. Pretty much the same with the grits and the toast – it was grits and toast, and it wasn't fucked up . . . we're not talking Lynn's Paradise Cafe nuevo-Southern cuisine here. Hell, we're not talking cuisine at all here: we're talking food. With eggs, toast, and grits, if you're not trying to prove a point, it's either good or not, and this was good. What pushed the whole thing over the top was the sausage: this was one of the best chunks of sausage I have ever had in my life. It was some variation of what I know as Polish smoked sausage, probably andouille sausage. Man, it was fantastic. There is nothing like a good basic breakfast taken over the top with a great chunk of meat. Our food fortunes were looking up.

On the way back to the Sheraton and her morning seminars, Sharri spotted her T-shirt for the trip in an old-school casual clothing store: it had "Shalom, y'all" written on the front in both English and Hebrew. I was left once again to wander the French Quarter, but not before I killed the chicory taste by gargling a shot of Evan Williams & firing up the coffee maker back at the room.

* * * * *

Strolling back up Bourbon Street, I crossed paths with a large, voluble hustla shouting out the shopkeepers just opening up. I nodded a greeting, and he immediately spun toward me: "Good morning to you, sir . . . listen, if I asked you a question, you'd give me a truthful answer, wouldn't you?" (it sounded more like "Good mahnin' to ya, sah . . . listen, if ah ax'd ya a question, ya'd give me a truthful ansah, wouldn' ya?" – but I'm not going to annoy you all by trying to nail the phonetics).

Oh crap. Now I'm on the hook. "Sure", I shrugged.

"Now, if I tell you where you got those shoes, you'd tell me if I was right, wouldn't you?"

I still didn't see it coming, mainly because I was still trying to decide if I was amused or annoyed. He was a friendly guy, but my tolerance for being spieled was getting lower every second I spent in this con-job of a city. "Sure" I intoned again, with a note of impatience creeping into my voice.

"Well, you got yer shoes right here in Bourbon Street in N'awlins, Lou-eee-see-anna. Now, you notice I never said I was going to tell you where you bought 'em, I said I'd tell you where you got 'em, and you got 'em right here, standing right here on Bourbon Street, so that's where you got 'em, right? No way you can argue that, right?"

Well, if you're going to try to split linguistic hairs, you'd better be sure there's a linguistic hair to be split, and a non-sanctioned use of the past tense of "get" doesn't really qualify . . . but discussions of vernacular weren't going to go anywhere with this guy, so I just said "Okay, man, you got me, have a nice day" and started to walk away.

He grabbed my arm to continue his spiel, but I must have given him a look, because he dropped it quickly and hitched up his rant slightly. He was going on about god knows what, but managed to misdirect my attention long enough to shoot two globs of goo out of a small white plastic bottle onto my black New Balance runners. He then proceeded to clean my shoes while I was quickly deciding that 4 bucks should get rid of this guy.

"Now, think of this here as both a shoe-cleanin' and an ed-u-cation. Next time some one asks you where you got your shoes, you look up at the street sign, and you tell 'em you got your shoes in Bourbon Street. Now, such an ed-u-cation ain't free, seein's how it's gonna save you money down the road, I think 20 dollars is a small price to pay."

"That's not happening." I said dryly.

"Well now, if you happen to be short, there's an ATM just 'round the corner . . ."

"I'm sure there is."

". . . an' I could prob'ly see clear to given' you change . . ." as he pulls out a wad of bills.

I pulled out my wallet to fish out some ones, but as I popped it open, I found only a twenty: I had given all my ones to the guitar player last night. Shit, this was starting to get on my nerves.

The hustla started pealing off bills: "I s'pose ten'd do it . . ."

When the hustle is on, you've got to go Jim Rockford to cope. He had this gag he always pulled on Angel when he needed a job done he didn't quite trust Angel to do . . . I pulled the twenty out of my wallet, tore it approximately in half, and handed the hustla the smaller piece. "Here you go."

"What good this do me?"

"It won't do you any good. But I am willing to sell you the other piece of this twenty for fifteen dollars."

He gave me an annoyed look. A very annoyed look.

"I'm not going to send you away empty handed, but I sure as hell ain't going to give you 10 bucks for fucking up my shoes."

He grimaced slightly, peeled off a five to go with the ten, and handed them to me. I hand him the other half of the twenty. He shook his head slightly, and started back up the street. "Enjoy yer stay now, you hear?" The hustla trailed of, having regained his stride.

I headed back down the street, chuckling to myself. I don't usually mind being panhandled, because I only give up what I can afford to give up. The shoe man was a bit annoying, but I didn't begrudge him 5 bucks.

Or at least I didn't until I got a little further down the street: I looked down at my shoes, and the greasy crap that he had put on my shoes had matted the black suede. Now, I'm not one of those meticulous types that is going to get bent out of joint if you step on my foot and sully my kicks, even if I don't like paying 5 bucks to have them soiled. And sure, I was nothing more than a rube walking down the street, just another out-of-towner for the locals to hustle, and that really didn't bother me so much either. What did bother me was that I had been pegged because I made eye contact. Yeah, yeah, I know, when yr walking around in the city, you keep yr head down, no eye contact . . . I have no patience for that. I walk around with my head up, shoulders back, and if someone passes through my field of vision, I'm gonna nod greetings. There are obviously situations that you avoid, but by and large, I'm not going to bury my head. If that makes me country, then so be it: I'm country.

Look, I'm not going to go on some Baudrillardian "narcissistic refraction" jag, and I'm not saying that everyone has to dance down the street chipper as a bug, but I'm not about walking around with my head down. We are, for better or worse, community. If you're having one of those days, or you're the kind that wants to wander your way in silence, that's fine – no problem. But are we so weak and isolated that we continually need to buckle down and wall up ourselves in public? We're all just people out here on this street, everybody has their own burden, and even if the details are different there is the commonality of burden. I'm not interested it the social gaze, but rather silent acknowledgement of community. If you walk past me, and your eye meets mine, I'll nod. It doesn't mean that I want to know your life story, or even that I want to talk to you. It just means that I see you. It's really that simple: I see you, you are there, we are in the street together. It is the loosest of all possible connection, but it is nonetheless a marker of community . . . a commonality of space, a commonality of burden, a commonality of purpose at the most primal level: just getting through the day alive and well.

Everybody has a burden . . . but not all burdens are equal. Hanging over New Orleans like a monstrous cloud is the ghost of Katrina. It is, quite literally, everywhere down here. From the gag T-shirts in the tourist traps to the folk art in the galleries, from the husks of buildings down by the Superdome to the abandoned, overgrown shotguns in the 9th ward, from the "Katrina party" pictures outside Johnny White's (they stayed open through the storm) to the hieroglyphic X's scrawled by rescuers on the door of the Saturn Bar, Katrina is a red pulsing scar on the face of New Orleans.

Even if I could contextualize Katrina, this wouldn't be the place to do it. Suffice to say that the scar of Katrina separates the survivors from the rest of us. New Orleans will be rebuilt, and perhaps the scar will recede, much as it has here in Louisville concerning the great flood of '37 . . . but this is the Katrina generation, and this generation will always bear the mark. Everything the Katrina generation does will have Katrina at (or close to) the core of motivation: the houses they build, the songs they sing, the desperation with which they sell something, ANYTHING, to the marks/tourists who come through, everything somehow goes back to the end of August, 2005.

So, here's what the hustla was doing in the street that morning: he was cleaning my shoes, giving me an ed-u-cation, and striking back against the angry god who took a swipe at him, but didn't knock him out. And yes, he was acknowledging community. He was just making sure that I was paying my membership dues.
next installment: The Code of the Quarter, and How We Finally Had Some Fun in New Orleans.

Soon enough, it was lunchtime. I had been trying to stick with "authentic" food experiences up to now, but it was clear that the Chamber of Commerce defined "authentic" down here. We decided on a slightly less "authentic" place called the Cafe Fleur De Lis. Sharri had a killer BLT, and I scored big time with the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. The nice thing about the Fleur De Lis is that it took its New Orleans heritage as a starting point, not as an ending point. The Fleur De Lis had good food that reflected New Orleans, not food that reflected New Orleans and was (or was not) good. The distinction in priorities is important.

Fleur-de-lis Cafe

Sharri went back to her meetings, and I was back wandering the streets of the quarter. It took me just under two days of inundation to become sick of the French Quarter. "Well of course!" any native of Nawlins would say, "that's New Orleans for the tourist!", and indeed it is. Short on time, money, and transportation, I despaired of really getting to know the city, so I just spent the afternoon going back through the bookstores, looking for a cheap bargain that I wouldn't find.

After the Friday afternoon meetings, the Habitat folk were busy making their final plans to tour the city before they left on the weekend. Sharri and I were scheduled to fly out on Saturday, but we had no real goals in mind. All we knew is that we didn't want to hang with the tourists.

We went down to the lounge on the ground floor of the Sheraton, where we had a couple drinks with the Louisville Habitat contingent. After the others left to find their dinners, we decided that we would hop the ferry and head across the river to Algiers.

Algiers Ferry

There was a big landing for the ferry on the riverfront. The sun was starting to go down as we waited for the ferry on a steel bench. Soon enough, the ferry showed up, and we grabbed a plastic chair in the sheltered front observation deck. Sitting there, with a small bit of peace and relaxation creeping up at the end of a somewhat annoying day, I decided to opt for a little soundtrack. I dialed up the jazz playlist on my cell, and hit play. The first cut up was Charles Mingus, "Stop! Look! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney!". The miniscule speaker on the cell phone made it sound like it was playing out a window from deep in the city.

It actually takes the ferry longer to turn around than to cross the river. At that point, I would have loved the ride to go on . . . a nice little trip down the river would have suited me. But alas, by the time we got into Eric Dolphy's "Bee Vamp" from Live at the Five Spot, the boat was docking at Algiers Point.

We didn't really know what we would find, or even what kind of neighborhood we were debarking into. All we knew is that we needed food, and soon. Another beer or two was called for as well. Fortunately, just off the ferry landing, we found a place to eat.

Dry Dock

We went down to the Dry Dock, determined to eat and drink, "New Orleans experience" be damned. After a series of disappointments, we were due some good luck: turns out that the Dry Dock is just the kind of neighborhood joint that we always seek. And, as a neighborhood joint in New Orleans, presto! Authentic experience! Of course, by this time, we were way past caring.

We went in, ordered a couple Abitas, and moved to the plastic tables out front to enjoy the sunset over the New Orleans skyline. The city radiated a warm autumnal rose glow. I ordered the red beans and rice with smoked sausage (good), and Sharri had the Crawfish Monica (amazing!). Even better than the food was the laid back vibe of the place. Sharri, ever the social butterfly, had let it be known to a couple people inside the bar that we were down from Louisville. A couple people stopped by our table to greet us, and give us a couple friendly pokes about the UK – LSU game that was scheduled for the next day. One imagines that they would have been less cheerful in their ribbing just over 24 hours later, after LSU blew what their fans must have considered an easy win against the interlopers from Kentucky.

We spent a little time walking off our dinner through the Algiers neighborhood, though we couldn't see much, since it was after dark. It was a nice quiet neighborhood which, for some reason, reminds me of the Deer Park area here in Louisville.

After wandering aimlessly for most of an hour, we caught the ferry back across to the downtown side of the river. The city sparkled before us. Leaning on the rail, I dialed up "Bee Vamp" again, and pretended that it was coming from somewhere deep in the city. As we pulled away from the landing, a man who looked to be in his mid-50's moved up to the rail close to us. He seemed to almost sniff the air to find out where the music was coming from. It took him a minute, but he figured it out and moved down the rail slightly to hear better. Once again, the trip was too short. I would have loved to stay on the river all night.

We got back too early to go to bed. There was no question of another trip into the French Quarter, so we decided to look up the Saturn Bar, a place that Sharri found when she was looking up Quintron & Miss Pussycat info online. Little did I know that I was about to stumble across a New Orleans landmark by accident for the second time: this time, it was the Ninth Ward.

The Saturn Bar

Of course, I had the bright idea that we would take a bus out. So we hiked up Canal a bit to a bus that would take us straight there. After standing around a bit, we figured that the bus wasn't going to show, and that maybe it wouldn't have been the best idea to be on it if it did, so we went back to the Sheraton. Going up to the bell station, we asked the clerk on duty to call us a cab. He said "No problem", and waved a Pakistani cab driver over. When the bellhop told him where we were going, he mumbled something along the lines of "I'm not going that direction", whereupon the bellhop berated him: "Now, you ain't got a fare, so you're going anywhere these fine people want to go". Reluctantly, he showed us to his cab.

Once inside the cab, he headed toward the address, and asked me if "we knew any people there". When I said that we did, he said "Now, you know that's the black part of town, right?" I assured him that we did know people there (we didn't), but I would stick my head in first to make sure they were there to meet us. I thought his paranoia was a bit out of hand, but then again, I was also the guy that thought a bus ride into the Ninth Ward on a Friday night was a good idea. If I checked for "friends" on the inside, then at least I could check out the scene to make sure I wasn't walking into that scene from Animal House.

Ah, and as Killdozer says, therein lies the rub. When I opened the door of the Saturn Bar, what was it that I was looking for? Well, I'm looking for signs that it would be the kind of place where we would normally hang out. Does that mean that I'm looking for white faces? It does, in part: I'm looking for a place where we wouldn't stand out. I wouldn't feel at home in an unfamiliar bar where I'm the only white person. I also wouldn't be comfortable walking into the middle of a rave. A redneck bar would be a big no-no as well. Would I feel more comfortable in the redneck bar than the black bar? Not necessarily, but I could pass for redneck to keep my profile low, whereas my blue eyes and dirtwater blonde hair (not to mention my exceedingly pale skin) would make that difficult in the black bar. My wife would be fine, since her half-Japanese half-Scottish heritage gets her mistaken for Hispanic more than anything else, and Hispanic women seem to occupy an odd demilitarized zone in race relations. Besides, the brothers always seemed fond of her, if her bus rides in from Portland are any indication. Ultimately, the bottom line is simple: when I opened that door, I was looking for a place that would tolerate me being in it.

Now, this is obviously a spurious dilemma. It's only common sense to check the lay of the land when you go into an unfamiliar situation. It's also clear that New Orleans's Ninth Ward calls for a bit of caution, and that holds true for anyone – black, white, or other. I'm comfortable going anywhere in Louisville, though not all the time. By the same token, there are parts of Anderson Indiana that scare me more than any place in Louisville. I knew what I was doing when I stuck my head into the bar, and it had nothing to do with latent racism.

On the other hand, race is at the very core of any New Orleans discussion, and Katrina has only amplified that. It starts with New Orleans being the birthplace of the single most important contribution America has made to world culture, a contribution made by a people forcibly exiled from their homeland and relocated to serve at the whim of their European masters. It orbits around the struggle over New Orleans as American cultural symbol, and the insult African Americans feel when white America wears New Orleans like a badge. It was thrown into stark relief by Katrina, which delineated the racial strata, even assuming our government was incompetent rather than racist. It is pointing to the specter of New Orleans, one of the few "chocolate cities" in America, losing that very identity as whites sweep in to scoop up land lost by blacks whose insurance won't pay off. New Orleans is populated by a black underclass who scrape out a living catering to (mainly white American) tourists, reflecting the enslavement that bound them in the first place. And yet, it is the tourist industry that puts food on their tables, and even allows some of them to make a decent living. The ambivalence of the host toward his guest is everywhere here, as is the palpability of race.

As it turns out, the door to the Saturn Bar swung open to reveal a place not unlike several joints here in the gateway to the South. As I first walked in, there were a few regulars from the neighborhood bellied up to the bar, evidently one or two more drinks away from heading home for the night. At the same time, a younger "hipster" crowd was just starting to filter in and settle into booths further back. It all looked kosher to me, so I headed back out, paid off the cabbie, and escorted my lovely bride into the bar.

We grabbed a beer and headed into the back room, which was opened up, and had a balcony/walkway running across three sides. We went up into the balcony and sipped our beers. Down below, a band was setting up. It soon became clear that the band was going to be a big one: a string section, a large horn section, guitars, bass, drums, even a conductor. A sheet was being hung over one corner of the balcony for projections. The Naked Orchestra was getting ready to play.

I had time to grab another beer before they started up. The lights went down, the projector went on, the band started up. They struck me as Sun Ra's Arkestra with Frank Zappa composing for them: the Sun Ra-esque surges, voicings, and freak outs with a Zappaesque angularity and precision. Appropriately, they were projecting footage of the Sun Ra concert movie A Joyful Noise onto the sheet on the balcony. The compositions were intriguing, the playing was first rate, and after all the tourist crap we swallowed in the French Quarter, this band was perfect.

We hung out for one set. Since we expected to fly out early, we didn't stay as long as we would have liked to – or rather, we tried to leave relatively early, but it didn't quite happen. On the way out, I decided to put down a Miller for the road. Sharri started chatting with the bartender, and then with the owner. Told that we were on our way out, the bartender called us a cab, then loaded us up with some Saturn Bar swag: a couple bumperstickers, a couple keychains. I finished my beer, and we headed out front to wait for our cab. Little did we know, it would be quite a wait: apparently, our Pakistani friend wasn't the only cabbie who wasn't fond of coming down into the Ninth Ward on Friday night. When we went back in to ask them to call us a cab for the second time, the owner himself made the call, and then came out front to check on us. We made a little pleasant talk with him, mostly centering around Saturday's upcoming LSU – Kentucky game. While we were standing out front, two separate sets of MPs on security duty stopped by to make sure the white folk standing on the street outside the Saturn Bar were doing OK. One set of MPs even offered to stay with us until the cab showed up, and only moved on when the owner assured him that he would wait with us. Finally, after almost two hours and three phone calls, our cab showed. Our cabbie was a white guy with the kind of amphetamine psych edge that I would have attributed to a Vietnam vet if this had been the late '70's or early '80's. He regaled us with Ninth Ward war stories all the way back to the Sheraton. 2:30 am, back at the room, I pulled the last of the Evan Williams and settled into bed. Sharri and I finally fell in love with New Orleans, thanks to the ferry and Algiers, the Dry Dock and the Saturn Bar. As we drifted off to sleep, we decided to comeback sometime, and not set one foot in the French Quarter.

* * * * *

We scrambled to make it to the airport well in advance of our flight. Sharri found a needlepoint shop in the Quarter, and she went back to pick up some needlepoint stuff before we left. The needlepoint shop wasn't far from the Fleur De Lis cafe, so I grabbed a muffaletta to eat at the airport while we were waiting for our flight. Another good decision! It was great, and big enough to last me the whole day. Our last minute errands run, we hopped a cab to the airport. Our cabbie this time was a lady in her fifties who, for reasons not clear to me, reminded me of a real estate agent. Actually, I do know why: she was an ambassador/saleswoman for New Orleans, just like I am an ambassador/salesman for h h gregg. Most everybody in New Orleans was on stage in the same way I'm on stage when I'm trying to sell appliances. Our cabbie was a combination tourguide/promoter/hostess who (again!) insisted on talking to us about the LSU – UK game that was only a few hours away. They were all so polite that I just couldn't share with them how little I care about the University of Kentucky . . . though, again, I'm glad I wasn't around after LSU lost; it probably would have been ugly.

Back at the airport, another interminable wait for a plane. This time I dialed up the first Modern Lovers album and listened to it as loud as I could (this was before I figured out how to over ride the volume limiter on my Samsung mp3 player). We finally got onto the plane, flew out of New Orleans, and into an insanely busy and crowded Chicago O'Hare airport.

I was flying standby, and ended up getting bumped from my Chicago – Louisville flight. That was the bad news. The good news is that Sharri got us a free roundtrip ticket and a room for the night by giving up her seat. Sharri was booked onto a 6 am Sunday flight, but they couldn't guarantee me a seat until the next Wednesday (??!!). However, as one of the airline folks confided to me, the 6 am flight wasn't overbooked, and you could usually count on a few people missing a flight that early in the day.

October finally hit us as we were waiting for our bus to the hotel. I was standing on the curb freezing my ass off in a soccer warm up jacket. By the time we made it to wherever-the-hell we were staying out by the Rosemont Horizon, I was tired, cold, and hungry, in that order. As Sharri was checking in, I was trying to lay low, since I wasn't really supposed to be part of the free room deal. I was prepared to promise them that I was only there to have sex, not sleep, and therefore shouldn't have to pay. Turns out it didn't come to that.

There was apparently some sort of ballroom dancing competition going on at the hotel, since there were a bunch of people wandering around in insanely tight spangled costumes, with way too much makeup and numbers pinned to their chests. I would have loved to hang, but was far too distracted, since I was tired, cold, and hungry, in that order. We got our carry-on luggage up to the room (our checked luggage already on its way to Louisville), and I think it was less than 30 minutes of Sports Center before I was asleep.

Ironically, the one time arriving ridiculously early paid off was on Sunday morning. Turns out a cheer contingent from Boston College (coming from South Bend, where BC played Notre Dame the day before) hit security at the same time we did. The security at O'Hare is moody and not particularly competent, and even moodier and less competent early Sunday morning. They seemed to be randomly opening and closing checkpoints, and moving people from shorter lines to longer ones. At a certain point, Sharri and I just hung back in the confusion, and slipped into a shorter line where the line monitor and one of the ticket holders were raging at each other. Besides sitting on the runway in Louisville at the outset of the trip, it was really the only negative airport experience we had.

True to the prediction, I was able to make it onto the early flight. We loaded onto the full-to-capacity plane, the whole day encased in gray. After a short delay, our plane rose from the runway into the soup, emerging a few minutes later above the clouds into a brilliant sky. The sun continued to dart through the cabin as we flew southeast, dodging through the occasional unshuttered window. I was still working on Pynchon's Against the Day, but I was actually spending more time nodding off to The Velvet Underground's Loaded.

As the plane started tracking the Ohio River, "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" was on the player. The green woods and grasslands alternated with ripe and harvested brown fields. Then, the river. The day was young and radiant as we touched down in Louisville.
Big ups and sincere love and thanks to the staff at the Sheraton, Dry Dock, the Saturn Bar, and the Naked Orchestra for making our trip.

October 12, 2009

The Romance of Falling (after Howe Gelb)

To be smitten
by the romance of falling,
to be the tears
rolling down the face of the Madonna,
falling, forever falling,
gracefully pirouetting down into the gutter -

To live in the eternal 3 am of the soul,
to be forever leaving Eden,
to luxuriate in loss,
to revel in an opium cloud
of anesthetizing pain,
a beautiful dying star
consoled by its inconsequence
in the face of the infinite -

To be free of any power
except that of self annihilation -

I tell her the earth is falling
it's not where it used to be
She tells me it's the angels recalling
us all back where we need to be

September 27, 2009

The Joe Prather From Etown Down to 65

big bird day
on the Joe Prather
wild turkey
black helicopter gunships

on down
to the concrete artery

* * *

Comin' down out of Elizabethtown
hills recoil from geometric violence
cut down through
laid bare and vulgar,

a dwarf pine sprouts from the rubble, or
maybe it only looks like a dwarf being,
as it is, a hundred feet up

& there's silt on the cliff midway up
a jutting corrupted by scrappy plant life

hidden valleys running up north and west
peaking in around the curves-
(in the morning fog flows through them
a cloud river
one dip you even drive under the vapor current)
(in the afternoon they attract the helicopters
like sweet fields of clover
attract the buzzing bees)


* * *

despite the best efforts (etc.)
the hills sliding off down to 65
bow not to symmetry -
the Joe Prather
doesn't cut down clean through time
the hills,
instead of sliced (as with a knife)
are cloven (as with an axe)

hills pushed this way and that

all gone grainy with gravel
stained with spring storms
filtered down through the forest up top
head a red leather sap
wild turkeys fat on the picking ground
black crow king
hop-hop-hopping away
no need to fly
no need to flinch
black cobra copters
buzzing the green valley

brother eagle may fly up on the ridge
but buzzard turkey and crow
rule Joe Prather.


* * *

you're climbing down off the good christian ridge,
winding down through history,
(archeologist of the quotidian)
through accumulated layers of death and insult
ossified in the silt & granite

- and out to the river
flowing south through Nashville and Memphis
and north through Louisville, Indianapolis, and Chicago.

* * *

The Joe Prather Blues

One of these days, and it won't be long
You'll look for me, but I'll be gone
It's all done, nothin' left to do
One of these days, I'm-a gonna quit you

On Slipping Quietly Into Oblivion (Amongst All the Noise)

I'm having trouble with words today,
language a series of one night stands
with nothing to commit to.

The radio means nothing anymore:
there is no place.
It chirps oblivious and shrill,
projecting nothing from nowhere.
I want gifts.
The radio has no gifts for me.

The heads on TV are surrounded with flashing words,
words that have become fickle and whorish,
words that have lost meaning,
like baseball when the snow flies -
displaced, shot through with chattering promiscuity.

Meaning dies a slow death
a cancer patient having each cell in his body replaced,
one by one,
with malignancy.
A death so slow it's mistaken for immortality.

September 12, 2009

This Weekend's Reflection

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

This FDR quote comes back to me time after time. I think it is about a lot more than courage under duress.

Consider . . .

I'll probably get back to this sometime.

August 30, 2009

Into the Viper's Den

Just finished Thomas Pynchon's new detective novel, Inherent Vice. Not exactly Against the Day or Gravity's Rainbow . . . but we knew that already, didn't we?

The closest parallel to Pynchon's previous fiction would be Vineland. They share a literary sub-genre that we could call viper spiel. As such, Inherent Vice is entertaining in a silly way, loose and rambling, like the free-wheeling, disconnected jabberings of the more creative potheads you may know. Sometimes gratuitous, always fun, Inherent Vice sprinkles just enough of Pynchon's particular time-slipping conspiratorial genius to make it a step above the usual crime genre boilers.

I tend to like my crime fiction a little tighter, and Elmore Leonard this ain't. Like Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, Inherent Vice highlights the nexus where it's author's concerns intersect with the crime genre. Unlike No Country for Old Men, the nexus is fuzzy and inexact.

As crime fiction, Inherent Vice is good, not great. As entertainment, it's good slapstick (a Pynchon trademark). As a Thomas Pynchon novel, it's lite fare. At the end of the day, it's a good read.