Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Can Opener, Bay Leaves, and a Corkscrew

About a month ago, I decided to take a road trip to Baton Rouge to acquire a can opener. My old can opener, along with many other things, rusted in the flood, and even if I could have turned the gears, I didn’t really think I wanted to eat anything coming even close to touching toxic flood rust. Besides, can openers are cheap and easy to come by. Weeks later, every trip to the grocery store ended the same – no can opener, no bay leaves, no corkscrew. All sold out. I’m not sure why bay leaves were the only thing in the spice aisle that was impossible to come by (they don’t come out of New Orleans, do they?), but after three weeks of only twist-off beer and wine, I’d had enough.

How ironic, by the way, that all those canned food drives wouldn’t have done me any good for lack of a simple, straight-forward, everyone owns at least two or three, can opener. What had cost a couple of bucks was now apparently worth its weight in gold. Not that I lined up for the free food handed out by the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the hippies camping out in the park, passing out lentils to all comers because I can still afford my own food and there’s undoubtedly someone who could use it more.

So I drove the hour to Baton Rouge in quest of a can opener, bay leaves, and a corkscrew. When driving west from New Orleans, shortly after the airport, you will find yourself in the midst of a swamp. Normally, this means you drive down the unending low bridge cutting a lonely straight line through an impenetrable curtain of trees hung with Spanish moss. This time, however, it meant driving through bare sticks as far as could be seen. All the trees had been stripped of foliage and most of their branches by the winds of Katrina until nothing was left but nearly bare trunks with a few broken-off branches vainly trying to stretch out.

The I-10 is also generally a pretty busy stretch of road, since it is the only highway heading west from New Orleans. It still was busy and is also now a stretch of road without speed limits. Obviously, the state troopers have better things to do than hand out speeding tickets, and so, while I tooled along at a completely rational 85, people blew right past me, doing at least 100. The only thing that slowed us down slightly was the incredibly thick fog that engulfed me about halfway through and rendered the water and trees off the highway nearly invisible and trucks in front of my car unspottable save for their rear lights. While searching our way through that, we kept to an average velocity that somewhat resembled the speed limit. If you ever wanted to drive the Autobahn without the trouble of leaving the country, hit the I-10 between N’awlins and Red Stick.

Thanks to a combination of my “Dukes of Hazzard”-like driving skills and pure, miraculous dumb luck, I arrived alive in Baton Rouge in something slightly over 30 minutes. I took the opportunity to see “Serenity” (movie theaters have only just started opening in N.O.) which was really good and since I know you didn’t see it in the theater, rent it. Character-driven, action-packed, funny sci-fi western makes for a good movie – whoda thunk it?

Traffic in Baton Rouge these days is awful, no doubt because the number of New Orleanians now living in Baton Rouge at least equals but probably exceeds the number of New Orleanians living in New Orleans. Despite this, I persevered and eventually found a grocery store. I made my way straight for the utensil aisle, only to be met with empty pegs, lines after lines of them, a whole aisle of empty pegs, their useless labels declaring “blk cn opnr $7.99” or “rd crkscw $5.99.” The spice aisle had no more love for me. I did, however, secure the last available corkscrew in all of Louisiana by venturing to the wine aisle and grabbing the last one hanging there, which, all-in-all, made for a pretty successful 5 or 6 hours in current New Orleans time. Nothing’s easy in the Big Easy these days.
My mom dug up a can opener, and after hearing of my plight, Brooke assembled a box of emergency supplies and FedExed them to me. After said supplies spent two weeks languishing in a warehouse outside of town, I finally tracked them down and spent 3 hours driving around, talking to FedEx on the phone, and waiting in line. My patience was rewarded, though, and I got my excited little hands on the box. Now, I am proud to say that after 59 days back in New Orleans, I have a can opener, bay leaves, and a corkscrew.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bourbon Street

A Saturday morning not too long ago, I was on my way to meet up with Arwen in the Quarter to get some papers signed or talk house stuff or some official blah-blah-blah like that, and I figured I’d wander down Bourbon Street while I was at it. Not that anything ever happens on Bourbon before noon except for drunks stumbling out of bars, wincing at the sunlight, but these days we’ve still got the 2 a.m. curfew, so there wasn’t even that. No, I just wanted to check it out. So I’m wandering past the Cat’s Meow and the Funky Pirate and whatnot and I get hit with the overwhelming stench of stale beer, puke, and piss, and the first thought that popped into my head was, “Well, things are finally back to normal.”

See, the French Quarter has stank of sewage for weeks. You would have thought I had my face buried in roses I was so happy.

Shortly after I got back in town, some friends and I wandered down Bourbon Street at night, just to see how it fared, and basically it’s the same – at least, it’s still a bunch of people wandering up and down, getting drunk, trying to see inside the strip joints before committing to going in; it’s just a lot less crowded than usual. Well, plus there’s National Guard standing around, which is admittedly unusual, but if the cute blond one I gave my number to reads this, call me.

See, John stopped to take some pictures, and these four National Guard people were standing around, carrying very large weapons. As I’m waiting for John to finish the photos, this cute blond National Guardsperson catches my eye and sorta nods and calls out a hello. Imagine us standing about twenty feet away from each other, which is about as close as I wanted to get because did I mention the large weapons? Our conversation went something like this:

She: Hi.

Me: Hello.

She: How you doing?

Me: Okay. Well, as okay as can be expected considering all this.

She: Yeah.

Me: How about you?

She: I’m good.

At this point John finished and walked over.

Me: See ya.

She: See ya.

Me: I’m Dale, by the way.

And then I yelled my phone number at her. Slowly. Twice.

I would have scribbled my number on a napkin and given it to her, but I figured shouting my number was safer than actually approaching within, say, five feet or so.

Have you ever seen three large men in combat helmets laugh their asses off? It’s something to see. Also, I would have thought that a woman carrying a machine gun couldn’t actually blush, but I was wrong. At that point, my friends, also laughing hysterically, pulled me on down the street.

She still hasn’t called, but I remain optimistic.


First off, sorry I've been M.I.A. for awhile. I've been meaning to update for some time, and it just keeps not happening. For instance, posting this has been on my to-do list all day, or all yesterday to be accurate because it's currently 22 minutes into tomorrow, but there was all this tv to watch so it has taken me some time to get to it. For a guy without a job, I'm a terribly busy person. However, in an effort to get some semblance of structure back in my life, I'm making a resolution to post everyday, at least until I get all caught up with the stuff I'm planning on putting here, and if I don't, feel free to send digitally bitch-slap me. Clearly, I just need a little discipline.

Anyway, recently I had to work up a depressingly extensive list of everything that I had lost to the flood for the insurance company, and I was planning on posting it here as well to record it for posterity or something like that. On the other hand, we just passed Thanksgiving, so in the spirit of that holiday and for the sake of naming every new post after a holiday, I've instead decided to post a list of things that either didn't get lost to the flood or I was able to salvage, so here it is folks -

Dale's Official List of Things He's Thankful Didn't Get Lost to the Flood

My motorcycle boots. I know I mentioned them earlier, but you just can't appreciate a good pair of boots enough, especially when you spend a fair amount of time wading through muck, mud, and trash.

The bass, of course. Where else could I get an '80s Def Leppard black Ibanez with custom spray paint and stickers, a buzzy A string, a blown pick-up and a cord jack in desperate need of replacement? Nowhere, man, nowhere.

Four original works of art. I have two paintings by my friend Laura (hi Laura!) that lived with me in the French Quarter. When she left, I begged to keep her paintings she had hung on our wall and she let me! I've had them ever since and they didn't go to the house and are fine, and the same goes for the paintings Drew and Kristin gave me.

All my wine and liquor glasses, especially the brand new martini set from Brooke and the hand-painted wine glasses from Kate. I honestly don't remember if the boxes they were packed in got left behind somehow, or if they were on top of the pile and I grabbed them and moved them back, but for the five weeks of evacuation I assumed they were lost and yet when I got back to my unflooded apartment, there were the still taped-up and perfectly fine boxes. Should I be concerned that among my prized possessions are the glasses I drink booze out of? Perhaps, but that's a worry for another day.

Speaking of booze - my old Soviet Union flask with the symbol of the Russian equivalent of the National Guard on it and a bust of Lenin on the cap. I wouldn't drink out of it, 'cause there ain't no cleaning that I would trust after it floated in toxic flood water for three weeks, but I did clean it off and it makes a good mantel knick-knack.

Boxes of pictures. For some reason when I was moving everything from the apartment closet to the house, I didn't move the boxes of pictures. Why I do not know, but while I did lose some pictures, most of them are perfectly fine.

My computer. Oh, sweet sweet laptop, how I love thee. I just threw it in a bag and brought it with me, so all my writing survived. I know writers who lost more stuff than I want to think about, including one who was always so sure to back everything up, but it doesn't matter how many hard drives and disks and cds you have stuff on if it all ends up under water, and he lost a whole novel. I get nauseous just thinking about that.

Albus, the super kitty. Well, actually he's a full-blown cat by now, but he evacuated with me and only just got back. I didn't bring him with me when I first returned because I didn't know what shape things would be in and it's one thing to return home myself, and another to subject an innocent, unsuspecting cat to who knows what kind of flooded-out, zombie-ridden disaster.

New Orleans. Seriously, I am so thankful I had the opportunity to live in this most glorious city before the flood. So many little unique things about the city survived (though just as many were lost) and I'm thankful for each and every one of them, which will all hopefully get dutifully recorded here as the weeks and months go by. Now I get the chance to rebuild this wonderful, magic place and make it stronger, faster, better, and for that I am truly, deeply thankful.

Okay, so there you go, things I'm thankful for. For the next post, I promise we will return to our regularly scheduled anger and bitterness. Until then, try not to eat too much leftover turkey.

Monday, November 14, 2005


New Orleanians will take any opportunity to dress up in costume and parade around the city - it's just something we do. So, obviously, Halloween is a pretty big deal around here, and when I heard that a couple of parades were planned, I jumped into action. For the first parade, I just grabbed the costume stuff that didn't get ruined and wore that; you know, your standard tux with tails jacket, funky purple pants, and a boa. For the second, I was a little more organized and spelled out FEMA on my chest with white tape and then wrapped myself in red tape - many, many people took pictures of that costume. Along with the usual sexy nuns and witches and whatnot, a lot of Katrina-themed costumes were on hand. Duck-taped refrigerators strolled down Bourbon Street, as well as Mold Man, FEMA checks, and the Ninth Ward Swim Team. One of my favorites was a woman dressed as the water line - a fuzzy black line across her chest, and then dirt and mud and yuck below. My friend Charles wore a tail and ears and drew an SPCA "X" on his chest, and Anne dressed as a sexy Red Cross nurse complete with pill bottles of various anti-depressants attached to her belt (if only the Red Cross were really so helpful). I ran into a lot of friends and couldn't actually ever walk very far without getting stopped by someone I knew and then we would have to have the conversation we all have these days - how'd you do, what did you lose, staying or going? It was good to see so many people and hear everyone's plans for staying.

So both walking parades wound through the Quarter, stopping at a few bars along the way, though one was longer and actually started in the Treme (lakeside of the Quarter) and ended up in the Marigny (downriver from the Quarter). There weren't too many of us at first, but our numbers quickly swelled as we stumbled along. It probably took us about three hours to wander the entire route, and I was quite glad I wasn't wearing, oh, high heels or swim fins. (I was in my trusty motorcycle boots - happy feet!) The Soul Rebels brass band played, which was very cool of them because they're too big to do street parades anymore, but they made an exception for us. Our King was an older gentleman dressed as a skeleton whose name I didn't catch, but he never evacuated, at all. Been in New Orleans the entire time.

I should explain here that, along with Mardi Gras Indians and the Mardi Gras parades, there's another tradition in New Orleans. African-American New Orleanians dress up as skeletons and walk the streets in the wee hours of the morning banging bones and shouting. It's often a family tradition passed down from fathers to sons. Anyway, our King was a leader of this tradition, and it was very cool to have him.

We also had a Queen and a Princess, Katrina & Rita, of course, though since we didn't have floats, they just got pushed around in shopping carts. They were dressed in full bondage gear, armed with whips, and mean. My ass was whipped too many times to count, and that was before we even got to Mimi's where the parade ended. We were there for all of five minutes when a transformer right on the corner exploded in a shower of sparks and the bar lost power, not that it stopped them from continuing to fuel us with booze. Let's see, what else happened? I kept running into this woman named Liz in drink or bathroom lines all night because we clearly had similar priorities, and she gave me some purple and black lipstick to replace what I had left on plastic cups throughout the Quarter because clearly we have similar tastes in make-up, though unfortunately it was immediately lost again when the Princess kissed me a few minutes later. Then I got to brag about being kissed by the Princess for awhile. Our Queen jumped up on a military Humvee and gave an impromptu speech about taking our city back and not letting even the worst natural disaster in our country's history keep us down, and we all cheered and applauded like crazy, and then she grabbed the nearest National Guard guy and made out with him, wrapping her legs around him and dragging him up on the hood of the Humvee and we all cheered and applauded all the more. And then the party really got going.

Man, I love this town.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

[Insert Extremely Foul Language Here]!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I finally got internet access at home again (though Cox has sent me bills for a couple of months, which I have ignored), and I was looking forward to adding a bunch of posts about some good things from the past couple of weeks, like Halloween and Bourbon Street and running down St. Charles for the first time in two months, but then ...

I lost my job.

It was apparently a complete culling of all faculty not tenured or tenure-track. In the English department, it wasn't just me, but also people who had been at Loyola for 30 years. All of us, laid off, let go, fired, shit-canned, choose your euphemism. I suppose I should've seen it coming, but when I went to the meeting called by the Dean a few weeks ago and he assured us that the faculty were the heart of the institution, I made the error of believing him.

So now I join the vast majority of New Orleanians who didn't just lose homes and all their stuff, but their livelihood. I quite honestly don't have any idea what I do from here because it's not like any of the other universities in New Orleans are hiring. Go back to waiting tables? Secretarial work? That made me want to put a bullet through my brain; that's why I quit.

When I came to New Orleans seven years ago, I realized within a month or two that the place I wanted to teach here was Loyola. I did everything people do in order to get the job they want - I worked other schools and other places to get the experience necessary, and I worked as an adjunct at Loyola to get my foot in the door and turned down other job offers in order to keep it there, and I finally got the dream job.

And it's not just that. It's also that - I also saved and did without and kept my credit ridiculously clean so I could buy a house, 'cause that's what we're supposed to do, isn't it? Go to college and get an education and work hard to get the good job and buy a house and welcome to the American Dream, right? I even went into education, which I love doing, and even usually bit my tongue while lawyers and doctors and whatnot waxed eloquent over how noble my profession is when all I really wanted to say was, "Noble-schmoble, just buy me a drink, ya rich jerk." And I finally get there.

For all of a month.

I know, I know, you're thinking I should stop the self-pity. I'm actually not feeling that; it's more a sense of betrayal, though who exactly betrayed me I don't know. The American Dream? Some sort of nebulous societal promise, like hard work equals success? God? (Though having my house swamped because of an "act of God" stings less than having my house swamped because of incompetent levee building and management, and losing my job because of an "act of God" would sting less than losing it because of the actions of extremely well-paid administrators at a Jesuit university, though why I continue to expect Christian institutions to act, oh, Christian, I don't know.)

Okay, sure I'm something of a trouble-maker and I should probably learn to keep my mouth shut every now and again, but I basically played by the rules, and this is what I get. I mean, I want to stay in the city and help it re-build, but damn they're making it hard. It makes me want to sell everything, buy a big van, and go on the road with a stinky punk band. Or go out into the middle of nowhere and live in a tent. Or squat in some abandoned building and steal electricity, water, food, and cable. Or figure out how to hack computers and steal credit information and live off that.

Anyway, so that's why I'm not telling you about Halloween and other cool things today. Maybe tomorrow. After I figure when and where and how to sign up for unemployment.

Fuck me. It'll get funny eventually, right?