Friday, September 30, 2005

No. 15: Name that celebrity


Hint: This person fronts an up-and-coming metal band.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Insert caption

Submitted by Bankston

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A blog about 'nothing'

I interviewed a Harvard MBA/CEO. The topic of great ideas came up.

He said, "I'd give 50 great ideas for one great implementation of a really good idea." (Granted, his job, at the time, was to implement on someone else's idea.)

I also read a quote from a now-forgotten-by-me, but-still-famous-to-many screenwriter who said about movie scripts, "It's not a great idea, unless you can make it sound compelling in 50 words or less."

In the current issue of Newsweek, another few-lines-or-less idea makes a career for someone.

Here's the short version. Writer wants to be a writer, but isn't paid to be one. Tries 'novel' approach. Fails. Opens her mother's copy of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Cooks ALL recipes and blogs.

This schtick is called Julie & Julia and is currently available from Little Brown.

Here are a few other great ideas, in 50 words or less:
>>Memento (film): A suspense/mystery story, told backwards.
>>Mr. Know-It-All (book): Esquire writer stayed home. Read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica. Wrote about it.
>>Public Image Ltd. (ad campaign): Ex-Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten released an album. All marketing around the album was labeled generic (Cassette, Poster, Compact Disc).
>>Dick List (web): Nikol Lohr created a message board. It's a forum for all females to post 'dicks' in their life, by name.

What's missing?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A blogger makes more than an all-star guard

Parade magazine sucks. Yet, I pull it out each week from the Sunday paper hoping it's the What People Earn issue.
    It always makes me think of the Ben & Jerry's philosophy on salaries - The salary of the top man is capped at seven times the average pay for staff.

    But even their thinking has changed. See this excerpt from a recent Mother Jones article:

    "A wage scale used to limit top salaries to seven times the lowest pay, but the company abandoned that practice and now operates on a "compressed salary ratio." That means top officials are given the low-end of a competitive salary, and entry-level permanent workers are given the high end of nationally-compared wages after one year of work. There's no longer a numerical salary ratio between highest- and lowest-paid employees, and the company has become extremely hush-hush about giving out salary information. Ben & Jerry's would not tell the MoJo Wire what the salary of an entry-level worker is after a year's worth of work. "

    I am always amazed at salaries and how they differ within organizations and across occupations. In 1972, New York magazine started their own 'Salaries' issue. Here are some highlights from their recent installment.
    • David Neeleman $286,971, Chairman and CEO, JetBlue Airways
    • Chelsea Clinton $120,000, Consultant, McKinsey & Co.
    • Chris (last name withheld) $24,000, Panhandler, Bleecker and Broadway
    • Shannon Stallings $45,922, First-year public defender, Legal Aid Society
    • Laura Held $126,072, Parking-violation judge
    • Pat Kiernan $200,000, Anchor, NY1 (Local News)
    • Maggie Gyllenhaal $500,000, Actress
    • David Schmidt $8,736, Kim’s Video clerk (28 hours/week at $6/hour)
    • John Lennon $21 million, Deceased singer-songwriter
    • Diddy $36 million, Rapper, superhyphenate
    • Malcolm Gladwell $1.5 million, Author, Blink (advance, plus $250,000 New Yorker salary and $30,000 per speaking engagement)
    • Sam Tanenhaus $180,000, Editor, The New York Times Book Review
    • Richard Johnson $300,000, "Page Six" gossip columnist
    • Will Shortz $90,000, Crossword editor, the New York Times
    • Jim Romenesko $169,187, Blogger, the Poynter Institute
    • Jessica Coen $30,000, Blogger, Gawker.com
    • Parakash Patel $14,400, Newsstand operator, 50th St and Third Ave
    • Adrian Awasom $230,000, Rookie defensive end, Giants
    • Barry Diller $156,168,000, Chairman and CEO, IAC/InterActiveCorp
    • Becky Hammon $89,000, All-Star guard, New York Liberty
    • Gregory Burke $18,444, Private first class, United States Army, stationed in Iraq (includes $130 monthly hazardous-duty fee)
    • Lori Lyons $48,996, Garbagewoman
    • Santiago Segovia $11,440, Parking-garage attendant
    • Adam H. Becker $60,000, Assistant professor, classics and religion, NYU
    • Jonathan Arak $120,000, SAT tutor, Princeton Review
    • Eva Ferka $30,000, Reservationist, Alto
    • Jamal Khandaker $11,200, Hot-dog and pretzel vendor, Broadway and Warren Street

    Here's a link to the complete list and article.

    --------

    In case you're wondering, NJK's compensation ratio/policy (me-to-Bankston) stands at 1-to-1. Unlike Ben & Jerry's, we do not see a need to adjust at this time.

    Sunday, September 25, 2005

    "Well, here's a love song I wrote about this girl, and somehow it became an anthem for premature ejaculation."

    Cameron Crowe was writing for Rolling Stone at an age when I was struggling for weeks to complete a two-page, double-spaced term paper on Zebulon Pike.

    He was marrying one of the hottest women in rock (guitarist Nancy Wilson of Heart) at an age when I was finally just making some headway on my acne.

    He's now the Dylan of marrying songs and film scenes at an age when I'll be just happy to hear them.
    ________

    I've seen Crowe in person, twice. The first was going into The Roxy to watch My Morning Jacket as I stood outside without a ticket. (Ticketholders Mr. & Mrs. Satisfied '75 were at that show.) The second was at the Ford Amphitheatre as he walked down the aisle to his better seats to watch Patty Griffin perform.

    My Morning Jacket and Patty Griffin both appear on the soundtrack to Crowe's latest movie, Elizabethtown. Members of MMJ and Griffin also make appearances in the film.

    ________

    To promote the movie, Crowe has contributed a wonderful article ("Moviemaking, from the soundtrack up") to today's Los Angeles Times. The piece touches on so many great moments in films (a number of which Crowe was directly involved) made powerful by songs.

    Here are some highlights:
    • In the classic boombox scene in Say Anything - the song that John Cusack was actually playing during the filming was "Bonin' in the Boneyard" by one of his favorite bands (and mine), Fishbone.
    • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' '87 song "It'll All Work Out" plays during a key scene in Crowe's latest movie and, along with My Morning Jacket's "I Will Be There When You Die," was a key inspiration for the film.
    • The quote that titles this blog entry is from Jackson Browne about the use of one of his songs in a Crowe-involved film.

    Read Crowe's full article here and find out which fast-times film appearance Browne is referencing.

    ________

    There are two other scenes in the last few years that I love and that weren't mentioned in the article.

    • The final scene in Lost in Translation where Bill Murray whispers something (inaudible to the audience) into Scarlett Johansson's ear and seconds later The Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" kicks in.
    • Another late-in-the-film scene, this time in Richard Linklater's underappreciated Before Sunset. Without giving away too much, it includes a mesmerizing performance by Julie Delpy and the sound of husky-voiced beauty Nina Simone singing, "Just in Time."

    ________

    The soundtrack for today's entry.

    "Bonin' in the Boneyard" - Fishbone

    "It'll All Work Out" - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

    "I Will Be There When You Die" - My Morning Jacket

    "Just Like Honey" - The Jesus & Mary Chain

    "Just in Time" - Nina Simone **This song did not appear on the Before Sunset soundtrack due to money or lack thereof. This version, heard in the film, comes from Simone's The Tomato Collection.

    Mrs. Brownstone

    In 1991, The La's recorded their first and only album. There was one hit on the album. It was called, "There She Goes."

    There she goes
    There she goes again
    Pulsing through my veins

    And I just can't contain
    This feeling that remains

    You've probably heard this song. Maybe from the hit made of it by Texas-housed/Christian-driven band, Sixpence None The Richer. Or from various uses, most recently as the theme of an SNL parody for a got-lucky-and-got-lucky-again-and-again-and-fortunately-again woman.

    Funny thing, the song was originally written about another woman. A heroine ... but without the last 'e.'

    "There She Goes" - The La's

    Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    "Can I get a lift? My pocket left me."

    "Damn you Jim, drink up!"

    "This downsizing is starting to hurt more than just morale."

    "Jim, does this outfit make me look big?"

    --------

    One of us should win. Submit here.

    Monday, September 19, 2005

    She's out of the picture


    This got me thinking about debut releases and Nic Harcourt's words: " ... debut albums that heralded the arrival of important new musicians."

    As I know CHW would agree, the release of Richard Buckner's "Bloomed" (DejaDisc) rang the bell for a slurred, shuffled, truly significant voice. The album was produced by Lloyd Maines, father of Dixie Chick Natalie and an early pedal steel player with Joe Ely. Today, Maines remains one of the top Texas producers.

    Here's where the story gets interesting. Buckner releases the album in 1994. That shot on the album's cover is of the house he shared with his wife in San Francisco.

    Here's the happy couple all wrapped up in love on the back cover.

    Then DejaDisc goes out of business. For a short time, a German label steps in to distribute copies. Buckner releases, what I believe, are his two best albums, Since and Devotion+Doubt (featuring members of Calexico) -- both on MCA, and Bloomed goes out of print.

    Oh, and Buckner gets a divorce from the woman in the photo.

    Skip ahead to 1999. Rykodisc re-issues the album adding four unreleased tracks. And they make one slight tweak to the back cover artwork.


    Here's a sample:

    "Blue and Wonder" **an original track

    "The Last Ride" **an added track

    Fucks and thank yous

    Don Was (record producer)
    Tom Morello (musician)
    Adrien Brody (actor)
    Harry Dean Stanton (actor)
    Mike Stinson (L.A. country rocker) and Pamela Des Barres (writer, groupie). Des Barres sporting a 'I [HEART] Mike Stinson' sticker on her purse.

    ----------

    The above folks were in the audience at last night's Kris Kristofferson/Steve Earle concert. Earle peppered his between-song banter with well-placed 'fucks.' While Kristofferson almost abruptly ended each of his 20-plus songs by saying the same quick, turned-head 'thank you.' Activism was the theme of the night. Kristofferson was very good, Earle was legendary.

    Here's why. Midway through his set, Earle strapped on a mandolin and began a history lesson about the Civil War, about literature, about songwriting, about the economics of war, about that war and this war, and on, and on. This went on for at least five minutes. He got a standing ovation at the end of his set. He should have gotten one for this intro.

    He ended it with - "It's amazing the pinko shit you can get away with in a bluegrass song" - before launching in to "Dixieland" - a song he wrote and recorded with the Del McCoury Band.

    Sunday, September 18, 2005

    Self-Titled

    KCRW DJ Nic Harcourt has a book out. Harcourt is the music fan's voice behind "Morning Becomes Eclectic."

    The idea behind these binded pages: 80 different lists for every 'mood, moment and reason.' Seems interesting. Here's an excerpt:

    Great First Albums
    They say that you have your whole life to write the songs on your first album. And up to the point that the work is written and recorded that’s true. The second album is often the tough one and some artists only ever get one album released. But that’s another category. Here are some debut albums that heralded the arrival of important new musicians .
    Chuck Berry: After School (Session, 1958)
    Little Richard: Here’s Little Richard (Specialty, 1958)
    The Who: My Generation (MCA, 1965)
    The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced (MCA, 1967)
    The Velvet Underground & Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico (Polygram, 1967)
    The Band: Music from Big Pink (Capitol, 1968)
    Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin (Atlantic, 1969)
    Funkadelic: Funkadelic (Westbound, 1970)
    Steely Dan: Can’t Buy a Thrill (MCA, 1972)
    Bob Marley & The Wailers: Catch a Fire (Tuff Gong/Island, 1973)
    Patti Smith: Horses (Arista, 1975)
    The Clash: The Clash (Epic, 1977)
    Talking Heads: Talking Heads 77 (Sire, 1977)
    Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra, 1977)
    Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (EMI, 1978)
    Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (Qwest, 1979)
    R.E.M.: Murmur (IRS, 1983)
    Run-D.M.C.: Run-D.M.C. (Profile, 1984)
    The Smiths: The Smiths (Sire, 1984)
    Sinead O’Connor: The Lion & The Cobra (Ensign/Chrysalis, 1987)
    The Stone Roses: The Stone Roses (Silvertone, 1989)
    Massive Attack: Blue Lines (Virgin, 1991)
    Beck: Mellow Gold (Bong Load/Geffen, 1994)
    Jeff Buckley: Grace (Columbia, 1994)
    AIR: Moon Safari (Astralwerks, 1998)
    Coldplay: Parachutes (Capitol, 2001)

    ____________

    To Nic's list, I would add The Wallflowers self-titled debut recording. This album, when it was released in 1992, sold only 25,000 copies.

    The band got its start playing the Tuesday night jam sessions at Canter's Kibitz Room. I caught them once in that room, during that time. It was the last song or two of the set. And in that little time, I was struck by two things: the character and scenes spilling over in Jakob Dylan's lyrics and Rami Jaffi's fuck-I-love-that organ and piano sound. That night, I had no idea who Jakob or any of them were for that matter. Jaffi was the music director of those Tuesday night jam sessions that included regulars like Slash of G N' R and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

    The Wallflowers debut captures that time, beautifully. If you've ever seen The Wallflowers live, there's a good chance you've heard them cover The Band's "The Weight." Listen to this album and it makes sense why.

    Here's a sample.

    "Ashes to Ashes" **this was the single

    "Hollywood"

    "Somebody Else's Money"

    Friday, September 16, 2005

    Tales From a Great Indoorsman


    This go around J.S. Bankston takes a good look at what his town is doing to help.

    --------------

    My buddy Matt is Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Austin, and a few days after Katrina evacuees started arriving in Austin he called me and said, "You oughta come down here to the shelter at the Convention Center and meet some of these people. They're great! Everybody's got great New Orleans stories. There's this old musician ... You'd love talking to these people."

    I said I wanted to come down and begged him to get me in there, but I never got anything definite out of him. I knew they weren't just letting private citizens in off the street--you needed security clearance or a badge or something. I knew I'd need Matt to escort me in.

    I just had to get in there. I wasn't so much concerned with hearing entertaining stories as I was feeling a profound need to help, and to get a more in-depth, realistic feel for what actually happened. I e-mailed Matt and left him phone messages for several days with no result.

    Monday I had to go into town to do research for my column and buy a copy of an historical photo from the Austin History Center and then drop it off at my publisher's office two blocks away. Now technically Monday is the deadline, but I usually don't turn in my copy until 24 hours later. I do this for two reasons: 1) My massive column takes up 1/4 to 1/3 of the entire paper, and since I don't get paid for my work, I've decided I must at least derive some sadistic enjoyment from the idea that the editors are shitting themselves, worrying when my column is going to arrive, and 2) the later I turn my piece in, the less chance there is that they will have time to butcher it with a poor editing job.

    I did my research then headed over to the office. I hate going over there, because I try to keep my walking to a bare minimum, and whenever my publisher sees me he just wants to talk and talk and talk, and I feel trapped and want to get out of there. I paged Matt and told him I'd meet him at the new City Hall.

    The Mayor's Office has been turned into Katrina Central. I was ushered in just behind some charity group headed by a black guy who, though being a doctor and an adult, was at best only 4'10" tall. He also wore a sort of 1977-style black safari suit and looked more than a little like Sammy Davis, Jr.

    My publisher had asked me to get some photos of the Mayor and evacuation shelter scenes for the paper. I had offered to write the feature on Katrina a week before, but he had put his brother-in-law on the job. My publisher had actually been at the Convention Center earlier in the day with his camera and saw Sandra Bullock volunteering.

    He said, "Yeah, I saw her handing a bottle of water to a black woman and it would've been a perfect shot. I had my camera right there. I could've gotten that shot and sold it to 'Entertainment Tonight' or someplace and made thousands of dollars! But I was too polite. Then she gave me a dirty look and said something like, 'No papparazzi! I'm doing the whole press thing next week.' Whatever that means."

    As much as I love money I was shocked by what he said and made myself a promise that if I got a chance to take a good papparazzi-style picture of a celebrity at the shelter, and sold it for five figures, I would be bound to give all that money to relief organizations. It would be blood money, and I couldn't live with myself otherwise.

    Apparently Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey have put in a lot of appearances at the shelter, and not a few evacuees, doctors, nurses, volunteers, et. al., have been rendered star-struck.

    So Matt and I drove to within a few blocks of the Convention Center, picked up the Mayor on a corner, then the Mayor and I got out on the east side of the building, went in, and I tried to take a picture of him for the paper. The Mayor posed by the entrance to the Job Bank, but for some reason my flash wouldn't go off. It worked, however, when I pointed the camera at the crowd. I sensed the Mayor was getting impatient and I was very embarrassed.

    The Mayor and I went back outside, and while he talked to a reporter I saw a school bus pull up full of evacuee kids just back from a day at their new elementary school. Photographers and camera-men rushed up by the bus and started getting shots of the kids, who in turn yelled, cheered, and flashed the peace sign. They were really eating up the "rock star" treatment. I'd not seen kids that happy in a long time.

    We took the Mayor back to City Hall, then returned to the Convention Center, parking near the service entrance.

    Some of you are not familiar with the Austin Convention Center. Some of you may not have been there since they added on to the building, at least doubling its size. It's now a "C"-shaped structure, its longest portion running on a north-south axis, with lofty corridors skirting the outside edge, and a service court/loading dock on the inside of the "C," facing east.

    Matt explained that for all the large numbers of people still in the Convention Center, there had been 85% more last week. Austin was lucky, he said, in that we had 24 to 48 hours more to prepare for the evacuees than Houston did. He showed me where the processing tables had been set up last week. He said he'd helped build the shower facilities off the loading dock, put up an awning so pets in carriers wouldn't be exposed to the sun, and claimed he’d lost track of how many cots he unfolded and assembled.

    He showed me where the busses had pulled up, and said the first face each evacuee saw was that of the Mayor. The Mayor shook everyone's hand and welcomed them to Austin. Now I am a huge cynic, especially when it comes to politicians, but Matt said the Mayor drives his staff to distraction with his refusal to promote himself, and I think, based on my encounters with the Mayor, that he wasn't grand-standing or politicking by greeting the people like that, but was rather just being gracious.

    I am also pleased that many people are referring to the evacuees as "new neighbors," and not going out of their way to run these people off as soon as possible. Matt did mention that if there’s another disaster in the near future the City may not have the money to help.

    Matt took me up a large service ramp, past a geriatric ward and a triage center. Out in the main corridor there was a group of tables and shelves piled high with pharmaceuticals. We walked through a large exhibition hall and saw even more drugs, as well as doctors, nurses, a diabetes treatment center, people waiting to get examined. From there we went into yet another exhibition hall where, set up on the floor, there was an actual trailer, about the size of a construction site office, donated by the CVS drug store chain, and filled to the rafters with even more medicine.


    It really began to dawn on me then just how wealthy a nation the US is, how many resources we have available, and it angered me all the more that if a medium-sized city like Austin could put together a logistical marvel like this in such a short notice, then why the hell had the Feds, FEMA, the National Guard, and the State, and local governments in New Orleans failed so badly to provide for the people there?

    Back out into the corridor, Matt introduced me to a couple of clergymen, one a priest who'd been at the Convention Center pretty much since the evacuees arrived, the other a black preacher who'd been giving the City grief because black leaders weren't brought into the relief planning sessions early enough to suit him. (You'd never have known there was any friction between the two, though.)

    While Matt was trying to decide where to take me next, we encountered a little old black woman in a wheelchair, who had gotten lost and didn't know how to get back to her cot. Now getting lost in that huge building isn't hard to do, even if you're young and healthy. There is one vast exhibition space in the building, but it can be divided up into any number of smaller halls by means of folding metal panels, two- or three-stories tall. And as the population and needs of the shelter change, often day-by-day, the spaces are re-sized and re-configured. While I was there the powers that be were moving the men from one hall into another, so they could clean and disinfect the old one.

    Matt took ahold of the handles of the old woman's chair and we proceeeded to look for her section, while continuing with the tour. I tried to take pictures of the dormitories, but a woman with an ID badge came up and asked what I was doing. (I had no official ID on me.) Matt explained he was with the Mayor's office, and claimed the pictures were for his office, not for the newspapers. The woman apologized, and said she just wanted to make sure no one was being exploited, and we assured her that no, she was perfectly right in stopping us.

    As it was, 1) I did not send in any photos that I thought might be construed as exploitative, 2) any pictures I sent in where I did not crop out the faces of evacuees were ones where the people were happy and not clearly suffering, and 3) Matt kept moving and I really didn't have time to stop and do good, deliberate set-ups, so the dormitory shots were all blurry, and anyway, it was more important to get the old woman to her cot than for me to get pictures.

    There seemed to be no end of rooms and storage areas. There was a functioning post office, whose lines were moving faster than they do at the post office in my neighborhood--and they didn't leave three windows unmanned! There were banks of telephones, rows of computers, a section of baby strollers, boxes and boxes of diapers, and on the floor, a large pile of school book bags, which for some reason made me very sad.

    These rooms smelled the way hospitals or nursing homes do. As we made our way Matt would ask different people, "Ma’am, are you doing okay?," "Sir, can we do anything for you?" Some people just murmured that they were fine, others didn’t respond. (I think one of the women who didn’t respond had her ear phones on, listening to music.) But one older man with a grizzled beard just walked off shaking his head that no, things were not in fact okay.

    I can sympathize with these people. If I was poor and black and had been through that hell in New Orleans and some smiling white politician came up and suddenly acted all interested in me I might be a little suspicious too.

    There were people sitting or laying on some of the cots, staring into space. Some fingered small possessions like a toy of a CD. I made a quick appraisal of the grouping of cots that constituted a family’s "home:" a few clothes jammed into a plastic trash bag, a stuffed animal, a newspaper, a Bible, a coffee cup, a tube of hand lotion. That was all these people had left in the world, and more than likely they’d just been given those things in this shelter. That was when my eyes really began welling up and I started blinking hard. I figured if these people weren’t crying then I certainly hadn’t earned the right to do so, at least not there.

    Another really strange thing was that the shelter, especially the sleeping rooms, felt oddly sacred, as if all the suffering these people had undergone made the place where they finally found sanctuary a hallowed one.

    We finally found the old lady’s section and led her to her cot. She thanked us both and grasped our hands and we wished her well. Matt went over to talk to a bed-ridden guy he’d gotten to know and I took a picture of a cot with three stuffed animals on it.

    Matt told me he’d thrown about six tantrums when dealing with businesses or other official-type people in regards to this relief effort. Now there are a lot of really overweight people from New Orleans. Matt is no slouch himself in the weight department, so he pretty much cleaned out his closets getting over-sized clothes for some of the male evacuees.

    He then figured out how many more men needed big clothes and he called a big and tall men’s store he patronizes and asked for a donation. The manager said he couldn’t do anything about it, that Matt would have to talk to the regional manager. And the regional manager balked too, giving some bullshit excuse for why they couldn’t donate the clothes.

    Matt went nuts, and started screaming and cussing, saying, "I have been on the phone with just about every business in the city and they’ve all been more than happy to help out these people, and you mean to tell me you won’t?!!! If you don’t help I fucking swear I’m gonna make it my mission to fuck you over, and when all this is over and the Mayor gets on TV and reads off a list thanking every business that helped I’m gonna make sure he reads off your name and singles your store out as the only one in town too chicken-shit to help in an emergency!"

    As it was, the regional manager refused to play ball. Eventually the local manager donated the clothes after paying for them out of his own pocket. I cannot believe anybody would be so heartless at a time like this.

    We cut through the dining room/snack bar, then went out on the loading dock. This was the smoking area, where the young and old men, particularly the old men in wheelchairs, gathered. It also led down to the showers. Matt cautioned me the area was "kinda rough."

    We passed a display of letters and drawings from local school kids, expressing their sorrow to the children of New Orleans, welcoming them to Austin, and assuring them that things will get better.

    A City Maintenance worker came up to Matt with a complaint, then Matt explained, "The first couple days you could tell everybody was so relieved to get here, they were like, ‘Thank you so much. We’re so happy to be here.’ But after a couple days people began to get comfortable and they started getting annoyed. They were like, ‘Where was the government? Where was FEMA? Why didn’t the government come and help us? What took them so long?’ Then some people started getting a bit rambunctious, tempers started to get a little high. (Voice lowers.) Actually, I’m wondering why there’s so little of a police presence here. (Raises voice to a normal level again.) But the other night somebody was playing some music out back here and everybody was really getting into it. It was a real community feeling. It was fun."

    "I would’ve enjoyed seeing that," I said.

    As we were turning back into one of the halls two young men asked me to take their picture. I thought they were evacuees, and they kept saying something about "Graebel," which I assumed must be some neighborhood near New Orleans, but they turned out to be delivery drivers for a trucking company of that name. They’d brought in a bunch of supplies and were apparently just inordinately proud of their company.

    On the other side of the hall I told Matt, "This is pretty intense. I’m having trouble not bawling at some of this."

    "Oh, I know it. You think this is something, you should see it when families get re-united. I had to step outside a few times when I saw that. (To a pair of policemen) Hey fellas, you’re doin’ a great job!"

    Out in the corridor Matt introduced me to "the real queen of this place," a young black woman who had set up a beauty salon on the premises. Actually I didn’t think the idea of a beauty salon in an evacuation shelter such a far-fetched idea. I can imagine after spending days wallowing in mud, blood, sewage, and industrial waste in the streets, then dealing with the hellish conditions in either the Superdome or the New Orleans Convention Center, that it would be a great psychological boost for the women and girls to feel beautiful again. I may have to go back and interview that woman and write an article about her.

    Just past the make-shift basketball court outside I spotted a group of dogs and Miniature horses. Matt let me out a door that was locked from the outside so I could go investigate.

    A group called "Hearts and Hooves" had brought these little animals to provide animal therapy for the traumatized people, especially the children. Petting and being around animals helps bring down stress and blood pressure, and often people with deeply- internalized traumas can explain their problems to and bond with animals in a way they can’t with people.


    I fell into a conversation with one of the volunteers, but soon realized I had to write an article about this. She told me how one day she set up outside the Convention Center and a large group of children gathered around her. One was an eleven-year-old boy with a shell-shocked look. He’d lost several members of his family, including his aunt and grandmother.

    The lady suggested that if he needed a shoulder to cry on he should talk to one of the little horses. He took the horse, went off in a corner, and sat with him for the longest time. Finally he came back, gave the lady the horse’s lead, thanked her, and said he felt a lot better. She said he did in fact look as if he’d been relieved of a great burden. He then went back inside the Convention Center.

    Not five minutes later the kid came running back outside, excitedly shouting that they’d found his grandmother. He took the volunteer in to meet her, but his grandmother was off somewhere getting processed.

    Before I left I took several pictures. One lady picked up what I think was a Schnauzer. In the background three men were walking away, one with a T-shirt saying something like "WHO YOU CALLING THE BIG DOG?" I tried to frame the dog and the T-shirt up in a shot, but someone stepped in the way.

    Matt and I made our way past the crowded Health and Human Services, Social Security, and Red Cross sections. We ducked into one of the medical treatment areas and talked with a doctor and a few other health care people, then went back into the corridor.

    Matt needed to go to the bathroom, but was worried about leaving me out there with no pass or ID. He said if I just stayed in that one spot and didn’t walk around, I should be okay. He also explained the situation to a couple security guards. (This made me feel like a five-year-old.)

    While he did his business I looked around at the resources that were available within a few feet.


    At the foot of the stairs was the press credentials table. About thirty feet away a few people were taking their seats for an AA meeting. And forty feet from that came the unusual sounds of Vietnamese evacuees chanting during a Catholic Mass.

    That day was quite a bit to take in. I felt useless, impotent, superfluous. I wasn’t a doctor, a priest, a counselor. I couldn’t tell people how to find work or figure out their government benefits.

    I stayed up late Tuesday writing my column and the Hearts and Hooves article. I slept most of Wednesday, getting up around 6pm. My publisher had called around 4pm, saying he’d heard the Neville Brothers were supposed to give a surprise benefit concert for Katrina relief at the Convention Center at 4:45. I later e-mailed him that while I would’ve loved to attend the concert, I was way the hell up in the Northwest part of town with no car, and a round-trip cab ride down there and back was about $50 to $60.

    He had also wanted me to write about the history of flooding in Austin for my local history column this week. The more I thought about it the more convinced I was that the topic was in bad taste and exploitative of the tragedy. I wound up writing the column, but book-ended it on the front with a rant about the way the government botched things, then wrapped up with an explanation that since history shows that Austin is also vulnerable to disastrous flooding, we are morally obligated to give to the relief efforts not only now, but long after the media gets bored with the story.

    The column turned out okay, but I still had my doubts, and shared them with my publisher. As it turns out, his brother-in-law’s article on the shelter was so long most of the columns got bumped from this issue, so presumably the horse article and a different history column will appear in the next one.

    You can already tell the media is trying to wrap this story up. Bush gave his little speech in the French Quarter, promising another War on Poverty. Parts of New Orleans have already been re-opened. Yet animal rescuers are still trying to get injured and starving pets from the area, there’s no potable water, the police are sleeping in their cars, the town stinks of shit and death, and the people who will be doing the actual job of physically rebuilding the city, are many miles away, lost, dazed, and disgusted.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    No. 14: Name that celebrity

    I own a larger-than-life-sized acrylic painting of a shirtless Jim Morrison

    I admit it. It hangs in my house. So, I know all too well what this means.



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    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Let Everyone Smoke 'em If You Got 'em

    The Replacements were the greatest 'alt-rock' band of the '80s.

    During the '90s, former frontman Paul Westerberg deserved a Remy to go with that cigar for his three solid, solo efforts: 14 Songs, Eventually and Suicaine Gratifaction.

    In this decade, he lost me with this sell-out tune.

    "Jingle"

    -----------

    Last week, I saw the new commericial for Boston Market. It features the song, "Eat Steak," off Reverend Horton Heat's rockabilly-and-a-betty-on-top-of-that '91 gem, Smoke 'em If You Got 'em.

    Good for them.

    -----------

    Here are the lyrics to a favorite song of mine. It's about pickling.

    If you want to make some pickles

    Take your time make some brine

    Put all those little things you love

    In vinegar and wine

    It ain't Chinese algebra

    It's easily done

    Why you can pickle anything

    Pickling is fun

    A lot of people I know use dill weed

    But, why don¹t you be more adventurous

    I'll give you exactly what you need

    Gonna fix your ass up real nice

    Give you pickling advice

    Let your intuition be your guide

    Results are all that matter

    Are you happy with your yield?

    Oh, come on you can tell me

    I'm an expert in the field

    Please don't be discouraged if your first batch is a bust

    Give your ego time to heal

    Preserving is a must

    For your ears, I offer this clip of The Gourds' "Pickles."

    ------------

    Write because you want to write, sell because you can.

    ------------

    With that, I am now going back to writing a short story entitled, Jameson's Irish Whiskey.

    Saturday, September 10, 2005

    Tales From a Great Indoorsman

    This week, J.S. Bankston says it all in his first sentence and then goes on to explain.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    The last two weeks have been total mother-fuckers.

    I may have mentioned before--I forget--but I've been dividing my attention between the TV, the computer, and the newspapers, following the Katrina news. I have way too much time on my hands to watch the horrors multiply. There have been disasters before this and there will certainly be disasters after, but why does this feel so much like a death in the family?

    I have been screaming obscenities, bursting into tears, and engaging in such violent online arguments on message boards that I've wanted to tear my apartment up and take a baseball bat to my computer. It's fucking exhausting. I feel like I've got a 10-pound leech sucking blood out of the middle of my back. And I have nothing to complain about personally--I'm sitting here on my fat ass with all the creature comforts, but eight hours away from here a Third World nation has sprouted out of the muck of the Mississippi Delta.

    There's been a lot of back-patting all around for all the cities that have provided refuge for the people of New Orleans, most of which is appropriate and deserved. This past Monday the City of Austin had to call a temporary halt to donations of needed supplies. Donations have been coming in around the clock, by the truckload, and the City no longer has room to house all the donations, and has more stuff than it can possibly process right now. I know I rip this fucking city quite a bit, but God, something like that makes me proud. It reminds me of how the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners the community puts on for the poor and homeless tend to get more offers for volunteers than they have slots available.

    On the other hand, news talk radio stations in Dallas were fielding calls from white suburbanites who were afraid the dispossessed people of New Orleans now languishing in Dallas-area shelters would turn into blood-thirsty Mau Maus. And in Baton Rouge, gun stores had lines of Bubbas waiting up to three hours in order to stock up on weaponry to use fighting off the refugees should they start rioting and looting.

    Barbara Bush toured the Astrodome this week, and afterwards did an interview with NPR. Among her comments: "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston ... What I’m hearing which is a little scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality ... And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this [she chuckles slightly] is working very well for them."

    Pardon my language, boys and girls, but what a fucking cunt! Gee, I thought maybe at least Bar was one of the few decent members of that family, but I guess not. Shit, she makes Marie Antoinette sound like a Habitat for Humanity volunteer.

    Ah, and now the news comes out that Bush has appointed his mom to head the Federal Katrina relief efforts.


    Wednesday night Bill O' Reilly announced that so many people suffered and died in New Orleans because they hadn't bothered to get the proper education and job skills that would've lifted them out of their poverty: ...
    "The USA has mandatory education, but nobody can force you to learn. If you refuse to do the work, you're going to be ill-equipped, and all the government programs in the world are not going to change that. Every American kid should be required to watch video of the poor in New Orleans and how they suffered because they couldn't get out of town. And every teacher should tell the students that if you refuse to learn, you will be poor and powerless. One does not 'find' an education. Public education is free, libraries are free, and scholarships are everywhere. For centuries charlatans have been telling Americans that government will provide, and you deserve to be provided for. Bull! Depend on yourself - get educated, get smart, and get personal resources. That is the lesson of Katrina."
    **View clip here.

    That's right, Bill. They were all stupid and lazy. They deserved to starve and wallow in shit and die, right?


    The scuttlebutt is that they're going to have to demolish both the Superdome and the NO Convention Center. The buildings are too damaged to fix thanks to the wear and tear of the refugees, and both places are major bio-hazards. And I'm sure both buildings are over-loaded with bad juju from all the horrific things that happened there.

    A very good friend of mine is Chief Aide to the Mayor of Austin. He tells me I need to come down to the Convention Center and hear the stories, to listen to and report on the people. I told him I want to come, I want to help, I want to see for myself. But he won't get back to me about how to get in. I don't think they're allowing private citizens in off the street, so I'd need his help. Writing checks to charities doesn't seem to be enough. I feel I owe New Orleans a great deal.

    There appears to have been a mass exodus of musicians from New Orleans. Cyril Neville, member of the First Family of New Orleans Music (sorry Wynton), has already gotten an apartment in South Austin. While he is certainly welcome here, I do hope the Nevilles one day return to NO. Of course, I hope there's gonna be an NO to return to.

    I've not heard from my friend Tim since Tuesday a week ago. He may be in Louisiana helping out for all I know.

    I thought of two Tim stories this past week.

    Years ago, Tim was visiting NO with a friend who had some drug problems. One night the friend arranged to score some crack, so Tim (who is not a drug addict I hasten to add) agreed to drive him. They wound up in a run-down neighborhood that was dominated by a creepy old church.

    They found the right house and knocked on the door. An old, black grandmother answered--she was not the sort of dealer they were expecting to see. The porch was bathed in the eerie light from the church's stained glass windows. The old lady insisted Tim and his friends kneel on the porch, cross themselves, and recite the Lord's Prayer before they entered the house.

    The old lady then had them sit down in her living room, and after the exchange was made she produced a crack pipe and lit up. Exhaling, she said, "Ain't but two things I love in dis world, and dat's crack and the Lord Jesus Christ!"

    And when my friends and I all went down in a large group to Mardi Gras in 1992, we came in on the freeway on a Thursday night, and headed over to Tim's aunt's house across the river, so we could drop off our luggage before hitting the bars. We had gotten maybe one-fourth of the way across the bridge when traffic came to a complete stop. In a few minutes, a motorcycle cop came by to tell us all that there'd been a major traffic accident and that it'd probably be an hour before the wreck was cleared out of the way.

    Two lanes over a group of Dixieland jazz musicians piled out of their car, opned their trunk, took out their instruments, and began performing for the crowd. Other people opened their tail-gates, pulled out their ice chests, and started passing out beer and party food.

    I got out my camera and started taking pictures. I smoked back then, and some young black men came over to bum some cigarettes. Then they hung around and got into our group photos with us, throwing their gang signs.


    Tim was shaking his head, laughing. "Shit, man, if there was an hour-long traffic jam in Houston mother-fuckers would be shooting each other inside of ten minutes. Here they have a party."

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    Jimmy Breslin on the Katrina debacle:

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    Dick Cheney is told to go fuck himself:

    ------------------------------------------------------------------


    An editorial I wrote that will appear in a Houston-area paper this week:


    Blood on the Bayou

    Anyone who has lived a few years near the Gulf Coast pretty much knows what to expect from hurricane season. If a storm hits there will be loss of life, flooding, property damage, and cars, boats, buildings, and trees thrown around like toys. The names of the worst storms, like Carla and Camille, are still mentioned in fearful, hushed tones, as if they still had the power to kill and destroy, decades after making landfall.

    But Hurricane Katrina defied expectations. She is shaping up to be the worst natural disaster ever to hit the United States. And it seems likely that even the most knowledgable pundits are underestimating what a catastrophe she will prove to our economy.

    The catalogue of horrors is well-known to us all now. For over a week Americans have been glued to their TVs, computers, and newspapers, watching events unfold with tears, anguish, and anger. (Although you get the impression the networks are now wanting to shift attention to the death of Justice William Rehnquist and the future Supreme Court line-up.)

    News coverage broke down very starkly across political lines. Time-lines have been prepared describing who did or did not do what and when, but some of the details differ. A few things are clear, though: 1) spin doctors went into action after this disaster faster than the medical doctors did, and 2) people who were supposed to perform important, vital tasks, tasks upon which life and death literally depended, did not do them, either because they were waiting for orders or got those orders in a garbled, confused form.

    The National Guard, for instance, sat on their hands for several days because key paperwork was left undone. The levees on the Lake Pontchartrain side of New Orleans were not properly shored-up because of a criminal level of buck-passing among the various officials who were supposed to be responsible for that project.
    The Left blames the Federal bureaucracy, FEMA, and President Bush and his administration for turning a natural disaster into a human catastrophe. The Right has been quick to put blame on Louisiana and New Orleans officials, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, and New Orleans Mayor Roy Nagin. Nagin has especially been a target, because of his angry, frustrated, and sometimes profane and blasphemous attacks on the often lackluster response of the Feds.

    And as is usually the case, the poor got stuck in the middle and got screwed.

    If you've ever seen newspaper accounts of the sinking of the "Titanic" you were no doubt struck by how concerned everyone was for the wealthy First Class passengers and how indifferent they were to the poor souls in steerage. You probably chuckled that our society was once so snobbish and obsessed with class.

    Well, guess what--nothing has changed. When "The City That Care Forgot" was turned into an apocalyptic dystopia, like something out of "Mad Max" or "28 Days Later," when gangs roamed the flooded streets looting, raping, murdering, and setting fires, when citizens of the wealthiest nation in history were languishing without food, water, or toilet facilities in shelters that resembled Third World hell-holes, when refugees were dropping dead on elevated freeways and their bodies were left, like roadkill, where they fell, some people had the gall to say, "Well, why didn't they evacuate when they had the chance? Why do they live in a city that's under sea level in the first place?" Some commentators, like Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, became obsessed with the looting angle of the story, and by implication tried to put forth the notion that maybe the people who were still stuck in New Orleans were all barbarous savages anyway, and not worthy of saving--at least, not anytime soon.

    But it was clear to anyone with half a beating heart that most of the people stranded in New Orleans were not barbarians, that many looted not for jewelry or plasma TVs, but instead for food, clothing, medicine, diapers, and other essentials, that most got left behind because they either didn't have the money to make evacuation arrangements, didn't own cars, or were afraid to abandon the only homes they've ever had. Some thought if they left town they'd lose their survival-wage jobs. It's even come out that some people were afraid to get rescued by helicopter because they thought they'd be forced to pay for the ride. Can this really be happening in America?

    What we do know is that on Monday, August 29, the day Katrina made landfall, and a day before he cut his vacation short, President Bush made disaster declaration for Mississippi and Louisiana. This freed up Federal funds, but more importantly, put the Feds in charge of Federal, State, and local operations in the affected areas. And while local and State forces are the designated first responders in any disaster, the magnitude of the crisis became quickly apparent, yet it took several days for the military and other Federal resources to show up in any great number. Why was this?

    Why, on September 2nd, after making a cursory tour of the affected areas and getting in a few photos ops hugging black people, did Bush spend most of a press conference babbling about oil pipelines, oil reserves, and rebuilding Trent Lott's mansion, and precious little of it discussing the horrifying situation in New Orleans?

    Why, when a storm the size of Texas was aimed at the Gulf Coast, were sufficent forces and resources not gathered in advance?

    Why did the President and the Federal government act in such a lethargic, distracted manner? Why did Bush act like someone who'd been awakened from a deep sleep at 3am by a ringing telephone?

    Last year, FEMA conducted a study of what would happen if a hurricane hit New Orleans. Why were the findings of this study not put to practical use?

    Why, on Saturday, Septermber 3rd, a day after the "cavalry" supposed arrived to relieve New Orleans, were search-and-rescue teams saying that they didn't have the manpower or resources to save all the people who were still stranded?

    There will be investigations of why the system failed, including one by our inept Congress. Some scapegoats will lose their jobs, and they'll be all the wrong people.

    It is ridiculous to expect a perfect government, but we are well within our rights to expect one that is wide-awake. The first duty of a government is to protect its citizens.

    Some say Katrina was a "dress rehearsal" for how we would respond if the nation suffered an attack from a nuclear bomb or other weapons of mass destruction. And for all our efforts at "Homeland Security," multi-colored threat levels, and Patriot Acts, this is the best we can do?

    How many snafus are permissable in a major crisis? We need to find out why so many links in the chain snapped, why so many aspects of this system failed up and down the line. Aaron Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish, summed it up best when he said, "Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area."

    No official's reputation is so important that it outweighs the needs of suffering humanity. No nation has a right to call itself "God-fearing" when it treats its poor like so much expendable trash. It's a shame we still haven't learned these lessons.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    File this under "What the hell"?--

    Wednesday night I called my neighborhood Chinese restaurant to order a delivery, with my usual peculiar variations. (Think Jake Blues's four whole friend chickens and a Coke.)

    After giving the guy all of my information, he said, "May I ask you a question?"

    "Uh, I guess."

    "Well, I've delivered to your apartment before ... Have you actually read all those books?"

    "Some."

    "Have you read half of them?"

    "I don't know. I've read a lot of them."

    That was the damndest thing. Forty minutes later somebody else showed up with my food and he said, "Man, there ARE a lotta books."

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hunter Thompson's suicide note and funeral.


    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    No. 13: Name that celebrity

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    Feelin' the Payne

    This is Waylon Payne. His mother sang the song, "Help Me Make It Through the Night." His dad is Willie's longtime guitarist. And the Waylon in his name was taken from his godfather, Waylon Jennings.

    I first heard Payne sitting on a grass lawn in San Pedro, eating lobster off plastic, with good friends. (I was so blown away that afternoon that I actually tracked Payne down in front of a throw-a-ring-around-a-milk-bottle-and-win-a-stuffed-something stand and told him so.)

    The second time, I was alone waiting for Billy Joe Shaver to take the stage in a Hollywood club.

    Later, I learned Payne had spent many years riding shotgun on guitar for Shelby Lynne.

    Come November, all of us will know who the younger Payne is when he portrays Jerry Lee Lewis in the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line. Here's a couple reasons why:
    Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash
    Reese Witherspoon as June Carter
    Shelby Lynne as Carrie Cash
    Johnny Holiday as Elvis Presley
    Shooter Jennings as Waylon Jennings

    -----------

    In 2004, Waylon Payne released The Drifter. It's good. I wish it was better. Go here and click on MEDIA to decide for yourself.

    Sunday, September 04, 2005

    My block: 24 hours

    "You Can Go Home Again"

    This is a look at 24 hours on my block. The above is 3:18am. I love that hookers and surfers coexist around the same bend. I love that Dennis Hopper lives two blocks over and 'Joe Millionaire' lives 12. I love that Charles and Rosa make up my days. Enjoy the grit and the beauty.

    12am: "Hey Baby Que Paso"

    1am: "Got Next?"

    2am: "Get Lit"

    3am: "Backstage"

    4am: "So Tired"

    5am: "My Own Private 5am"

    6am: "Old Venice"

    7am: "Clean Up On Street 7"

    8am: "Ok, Already!! ... I'm Leaving"

    9am: "Carted Off"

    10am: "Two Roads Diverged ... "

    11am: "Ah, Ain't That Pretty"

    12pm: "Not the Sound of Silence"

    1pm: "Charles in Charge"; "Framed"; "Out of Business"; "It Pays to Recycle"

    2pm: "A Tale of Two Signs"

    3pm: "Bark at the Moon ... The Mailman ... My Dog ... Hookers ... His Tail ... "

    4pm: "Block Party"

    5pm: "Permission to Take Lincoln?"

    6pm: "Money Shot II"

    7pm: "Rush Hour"; "There Blues the Neighborhood"

    8pm: "Money Shot"

    9pm: "Wired"

    10pm: "Red Door"

    11pm: "Money Shot III"

    Saturday, September 03, 2005

    Forty-four troops pressed together in their truck, swaying as one at every bump and turn like reeds in a river ...

    Good morning.

    I have halted publication of the My Block series for now. It will be completed soon. And, I believe it has its place and purpose.

    Today's place and purpose is being captured, with a rare mix of compassion and accuracy, by Houston-based Los Angeles Times' reporter Scott Gold. Unlike Bush, who only took in a double-feature, entitled the "The Wet South," Gold has been on the ground in New Orleans, filing several stories a day since the beginning. Gold is a close friend of tj1972. And like many who frequent this blog, I am told that he'll travel states to see a good band.

    So leave here and go there.

    ---------------

    You should also thank Gold's coverage for delaying the launch of my next endeavor: a 60-part series that begins, "My bathroom: 12:04pm."

    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    Tales From a Great Indoorsman

    We should be talking about New Orleans. This week, J.S. Bankston does.

    ----------------

    What has happened down here is the wind have changed
    Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
    Rained real hard and rained for a real long time
    Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline
    The river rose all day
    The river rose all night
    Some people got lost in the flood
    Some people got away alright
    The river have busted through cleard down to Plaquemines
    Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline
    CHORUS
    Louisiana, Louisiana
    They're tyrin' to wash us away
    They're tryin' to wash us away
    Louisiana, Louisiana
    They're tryin' to wash us away
    They're tryin' to wash us away
    President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
    With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
    The President say, "Little fat man, isn't it a shame what the river has
    done
    To this poor cracker's land.

    "Louisiana 1927" Randy Newman

    I have spent the week in stunned anguish, watching the reports from New Orleans. As most people know, it’s one of my favorite places to visit, and felt like home to me from the first. I had always assumed I’d live there at some point in my life and had even applied for a job with the "New Orleans Times-Picayune" newspaper a few years ago, though I’m now having second thoughts. I could not handle living in the apocalyptic "28 Days Later"/ "Mad Max" world New Orleans has become.


    I stayed up waiting on the storm until about 8am. By then my eyelids were heavy, and a reporter from one of the cable news channels, who had been trying to see how long he could stand out in the winds before they blew him away, was reduced to speaking in the slow, monosyllabic speech of the truly exhausted.

    A web-cam on Fox News was aimed at a bus shelter on Canal Street as the storm blew in. I knew that bus shelter all too well.

    In March of 1991 I was living in a co-op, a sort of student-run boarding house, in Austin. One of my house-mates, Tobias, was about to return to his home in the Netherlands, and many of us in the house wanted to give him a proper send-off by taking him to Mardi Gras, the ultimate American party. Now Tobias affected the pose of the aloof European, who criticized "stupid Americans" and their lack of culture, but he clearly had a ball while he was on these shores.

    I have been to New Orleans four times, but the first trip was the best. I only had $25 on me, though the trip’s host and organizer, Tim, owed me some money and agreed to pay me back in meals. And while Tobias was not the kind to lend a guy money, he also could not abide the sight of a friend without a beer in his hand.

    During all these trips my house-mates and I stayed in a house owned by Tim’s aunt, which she had on the market for several years. Tim would call her a few days before we’d head down, she’d turn on the utilities, and we were set. There was a fold-out couch in the living room, a bed in the master bedroom, and lots of floor space for everybody else, but it suited our needs.

    One morning the peace of the house was broken by a blood-curdling scream, followed by a noxious green cloud that floated from one room to the next. It turns out Tim had given his girlfriend a "Dutch oven."


    Our first night in town we made the perfunctory visit to Bourbon Street, then adjourned to a run-down blues bar called "Benny’s" on Camp Street. The story goes that Aaron Neville used to live a few doors down, but moved because the bar stayed open too late and generated too much noise. The joint occupied what looked like a former corner grocery store; a wall had been knocked out of a back storage room to make the "stage," but the 2x4 studs had been left in place.

    We left Benny’s at 2am, when the band finished its first set, but not before I had drunkenly patted a $5 bill into a cop’s shirt pocket, as a protection bribe against the misbehavior I was sure I would commit during the course of the weekend. The cop smiled at my drunken performance, but he also kept my money.


    Saturday was our last full night in town, the night of the huge Krewe of Bacchus parade, which is known for bringing in celebrities every year to serve as King. Not long before the parade commenced, my friends ran across Canal Street, the broad boulevard that separates the French Quarter from the Central Business District, and stopping in the median, climbed atop a bus shelter.

    I was much slower than the rest, and not so convinced of the safety of their perch. But I too ran across, and awkwardly hauled my fat ass to the top of a steel crowd-control barricade, then got a hand up to the roof of the shelter.

    Our vantage point proved excellent, but the roof was quickly covered with spilled beer, swill, broken strings of beads, and all the other detritus of a Mardi Gras parade. The last parade float was followed by a fleet of police cars with sirens shrieking, several street-sweeping trucks, and an army of men who were quickly grabbing the steel barriers, disassembling them, and loading them onto the backs of trucks.

    My swifter and more svelte and athletic friends climbed off the shelter roof just before these men came by. Again, I failed too move as quickly as the rest. And I found myself stranded, about ten feet above the ground, with nothing for a foothold, and no one down below willing to risk a hernia from catching me if I jumped.


    My "friends" broke out their cameras. One of them pointed out a sign on the edge of the shelter’s roof; I read it upside down. It said, in effect, that the shelter roof was an electrical danger when wet, was not designed to support the weight of human beings, and that the City of New Orleans would not be held legally liable for injuries incurred by anyone who tried to climb onto the structure.

    As my face began to register bemused, drunken horror, tourists started to gather, and they too took pictures of me, exclaiming, "God, I only thought this kinda thing happened on TV!"

    Since clearly no one was going to help me, I finally grabbed the edge of the roof and tried to lower myself down, but I cut open my wrists and palms in the process. While everybody else was still at the shelter, laughing, I rushed to the men’s room off the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel (the former Roosevelt), to wash and bind my wounds.

    After that we went in search of a bar. Now I realize that might sound ridiculous–how hard is it to find a bar in New Orleans, for Gods’s sake? But we were looking for a real bar – not a frat bar, sports bar, theme bar, tourist bar, gay bar, country bar, fern bar, or biker bar—but a bar bar. Just a dark place to drink–no muss, no fuss.


    After a prolonged search, we thought we found a place, but a couple sitting on a stool by the front door was about a third of the way through the act of sexual congress, so we decided not to interrupt them. We finally settled on Evelyn’s on Chartres, a friendly little dive with an owner who looked like Imogene Coca.


    I had been sitting at the bar for hours downing Dixie beers and discussing writing with my friends Tobias, Cosme, and Collin, when something that had been buzzing in my ear finally came into sharper focus and I said, "Why is it I’ve been hearing that goddamn song all night long?" "That song" was Sinead O’Connor’s "Nothing Compares to U," and I soon learned Tobias was the culprit. Beer cost $1.25, so every time Tobias bought one he’d hand the bartender $2.00 and put the .75 in the jukebox, ordering up that same song each time.
    And Tobias drank a lot of beer.

    We were run out of Evelyn’s when it closed for the night at 5:30am. I was feeling no pain, and was extolling the city’s architecture. Reliable sources say I announced, "This city is great! These buildings are great! Look at this wall! Isn’t this a great, brick wall? I wanna rub my penis against this wall!"

    When we came to Pirate’s Alley alongside the Cathedral, I had a flash of drunkard’s inspiration, and ran down to the fire hydrant, unzipped, hiked my right leg like a dog, and began pissing on the hydrant. Tim and Cosme thought this a brilliant idea and followed suit.

    We made it to the Café Du Monde, which is open 24/7, and ordered chicory coffee and beignets. Tim, Tobias, and a few others from our group got into the massive line for the restrooms. Tim grabbed Tobias by the collar, pulled him from the line, and announced, "This is our friend Tobias. He’s from Holland and he’s uncircumcised!" Further up the line, another guy popped out with a friend in tow, and said, "And this is our friend Josh. He’s uncircumcised too, and we call him ‘Mr. Cheeseburger’!"

    Tim and I stole some waiter caps and began mingling amongst the tables, taking orders from tourists who were too drunk to know any better. Two drunk frat boys got into a fist-fight and we began sporting event-type coverage, with me providing color commentary. The cops soon arrived and broke the fight up.

    One of the frat boys was made to leave, and as he did, he defiantly announced, "You haven’t heard the last of me! When I get home I’m gonna sue the Café Du Monde, the New Orleans Police, and the City of New Orleans!" A waiter called back, "Yeah, partner. Go try and sue the City for something that happens during Mardi Gras. Good luck with that!"

    New Orleans was a city Tobias could understand, since it’s more European than American in look and flavor. All day long Tobias had been trying to sneak cigars out of my shirt pocket and I finally let him have one. As we smoked our cigars and drank our coffee, taking in the sounds of horse hooves on cobblestones, groaning ships on the Mississippi River, and the controlled pre-dawn bustle of a city shaking off sleep, Tobias nodded in satisfaction and said, "Dis is Holland!"

    Little did he know ...

    ------------------

    I woke up Monday night and began monitoring the news channels and the Internet. Initial reports were guardedly optimistic–the shit-hammer by-passed New Orleans and crashed down onto Mississippi and Alabama instead. But as the minutes passed it became quickly apparent that even if the situation in New Orleans was "not the worst-case scenario," it was still pretty fucking bad.

    Ten thousand people were being sheltered in the Superdome. Others were stuck in their attics or atop the roofs of their houses. But some rescue crews said they were unable to navigate their boats into many of the flooded areas.

    Dogs and cats were stuck in back yards, crying for their lives. Other dogs, still living, were spotted entangled in masses of live electrical wires. (A special circle of Hell should be reserved for those selfish cocksuckers who left their pets behind to drown in order to save their own sorry asses.)

    Friends with New Orleans families e-mailed me, wondering if their family tombs had broken open and their grandparents’s remains were floating around town.

    Tim said his mom had sent him to New Orleans a week before to secure a rent house she owns near Tulane. He said he now thought his efforts were about as useful as arranging deck chairs on the "Titanic." He didn’t go out and get drunk Friday night, so he woke up early and got one of the last flights out of town. He added, "I lucked out and was able to change my flight from Monday at 3:30 to early Saturday afternoon. I almost missed my flight and if I had I would likely now be residing at the Superdome or would have caught a ride with my crazy aunt back to Austin. The latter would have been more hellish than being in the Superdome with no power, no food, no water, every New Orleans gangsta, and rising water filled with sewage and chemical plant runoff."

    He later wrote, "Count yourself lucky that we fished your ass off that bus stop all so many years ago. If not you would be a tourist attraction like that Pali that has been stuck in the Paris Airport for the last 20 years.

    Tourists would feed you Lucky Dogs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and you could make a good living selling the beads people gave you for a peek at your tits."

    By Tuesday a bureaucratic cluster-fuck resulted in key levies on the north side breaking open, pouring water from Lake Pontchartrain into the city. The aerial footage was appalling. I tried to make out familiar landmarks. I recognized the old Fairgrounds ...

    A few weeks after my first trip, I returned to New Orleans for JazzFest, this time with Tim and two of our house-mates: Tony, a jazz musician, and Scott, a short, skinny layabout who was mistaken during the trip for my son. I’d actually loaned Scott $75 so he could come along. I figured, correctly, that he would be valuable as comic relief and as a whipping boy.

    We blew into New Orleans at dawn on a Thursday in a driving rainstorm. I had brought along $500. By sundown Saturday I was so broke I had to hit up Tim and Tony to pay for my dinner. I should explain that I didn’t spend all that on Dixie beer and gumbo–while the guys slept it off at the house during the day, I would go out sight-seeing and buying old books and 19th century prints. That’ll piss through a bankroll pretty quickly, let me tell you.

    Friday afternoon Tim heard a spot on the radio advertising a bar near the Tulane campus that was offering "Penny-a-Pitcher" beer. Since the JazzFest had been rained out for the day we had to go check that bar out. But we were having trouble finding a place to park.

    We found a Catholic girls’s school, but all the parking spots were marked as being reserved for parents of the school’s students. The playground was clotted with tartan skirts and pigtails, so I rolled down my window, and in my best "Hoyrish" accent, called out, "Hoy’m here for me daughter, Mary Margaret!" About a dozen little heads popped up. I got out and craned my neck in the direction of the front gate, and my friends slipped out of the car undetected.

    The New Orleans Museum of Art was hosting a traveling exhibition of Sigmund Freud’s personal collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities. I had to go see that, so while my friends went to drink, I crossed the Tulane campus and tried to flag down a cab.

    One finally pulled over and two guys and two girls in their mid-twenties got out. One of the girls was a leggy blonde who was unwrapping herself from the front seat and laughing and calling out something to the driver. As she rounded the back of the cab she gave me a mocking "come hither" look and poked a finger into my Buddha belly.

    I got into the cab to find my slap-happy black driver beside himself, hooting and squawking like a parrot: "You see that blonde? She was sittin’ up front here with me, and all the way from the airport she had her hand inching up my leg and finally rubbin’ on my crotch! Man, I didn’t know what to do! I was fin’ to climax all over myself!

    "Man, when I get you to your destination, I’m gonna go home and call my girlfriend. She my girlfriend...we got three children together, but we don’t have an intercourse no more. When we get together now I just go down on her and she...pleasures me orally. We don’t have an intercourse no more.

    "But I gotta do somethin.’ That white chick was drivin’ me crazy. I gotta take a cold shower or jack off or somethin." I fin’ to climax all over myself!"

    I got to the Museum only 15 minutes before closing, so I decided I had to go back the next day and examine the show at a more leisurely pace. Fortunately, the Museum was a few blocks from the Fairgrounds where the JazzFest was held.

    Scott was in rare form Friday night. That little fucker sure could drink. At one point we went over to the Fairmont to use the men’s room, which was located on a mezzanine level off the lobby, atop a short semi-circular flight of stairs. When we emerged he started howling and cursing loudly and I told him to shut the fuck up, that I didn’t want to get arrested.

    He cursed again and I slapped him hard upside the back of his head.

    "Goddammit! FUCK!!!" Then he spat on the carpet.

    Bad move. My hero, Huey Long, used to live in this hotel. Elvis rented an entire floor when he was in town filming "King Creole." This punk was not gonna spit on the floor.

    I gave him a sharp kick directly in the crack of his ass. What I hadn’t noticed was that he was standing at the top of the stairs. The kick knocked him to the bottom.

    We spent a few hours at Evelyn’s, then stopped to piss in Pirate’s Alley. Scott was so out of it while pissing he lost his grip on his pants and they fell to his ankles. He bent over to pull them up and pitched over onto the sidewalk. Once he got his pants back on he held his arms straight up in the air like a little kid who has decided he’s too tired to walk any further, so I had to pick him up, sling him over my shoulder, and carry him to the Café Du Monde.

    The guys said that since I wasn’t going into JazzFest the same time they were I’d be unlikely to find them in the crowd, and so should just meet them at the gate when the event was over. When I finished at the Museum, I went over to the Fairgrounds, wandered around, saw a bit of the Los Lobos set, all of B.B. King’s, then caught a gospel choir from a housing project. The guys had expressed interest in seeing zydeco-rocker Zachary Richard, so I made my way to his stage.

    Years ago I read a backstage history of the "Tonight Show." One night Johnny Carson had told the story of the Fukawi Indian tribe, the most savage Indians in the Old West. They attacked pioneers, burned settlements, spreading violence and fear wherever they went.

    Finally, an elite troop of cavalry was sent to track them down, but had no luck. One day when the troop found itself riding in circles the colonel drew the column to a halt and turned to his scout and said, "We have crossed prairies, mountains, and deserts, looked high and low, and have had no success. So I have to ask–Where the Fukawi?"

    For years whenever Carson’s jokes bombed he or Ed McMahon or Doc Severinsen would look at one another and make veiled, inside references to the Fukawi Indians. And if you knew that story and heard them talking, you’d be in on their inside joke too.

    After about 30 minutes of searching for my friends I worked my way to the back of the crowd. From their midst rose a flagpole, bearing an enormous standard. In the center of the flag was the head of an Indian chief with a feather headdress, surrounded by the words, "FUKAWI NATION." I ran towards them, gleefully screaming, "There the Fukawi! There the Fukawi!"

    --------------------------------------------------

    Wednesday night brought news of looters trying to break into nursing homes and a children’s hospital. People were suffocating to death in their attics. The flooded streets were crowded with corpses, coffins, feces, urine, sharks, industrial waste, gasoline.

    The President finally cut his vacation short and condescended to make an indifferent fly-over of three of the nearly-obliterated states he was elected to govern. Federal presence in the city, especially in the form of National Guard members, was negligible at best at this time.

    The Superdome no longer had electricity or air conditioning. Its toilets didn’t flush. As many as 30,000 people were said to be there now. Various cities in Texas, including Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, agreed to provide emergency housing to the refugees.

    The violence and desperation that beats just below the city’s easy-going surface was beginning to bubble up.
    For the 1992 Mardi Gras we took groups from both Austin and Houston, and I stayed for the first time all the way until Fat Tuesday. Our first night in town we went to the F&M Patio Bar. The F&M is the sort of college bar you see in bad 1980s slap-and-tickle movies on Showtime late at night. When you drive up to it you see people dancing on the roof. Inside they have sheets of plyboard on top of the pool tables so you can dance on them too.

    I got drunk enough that I, yes, even I, danced atop a pool table. Later that night at Benny’s I danced with some girl to "Sweet Home Chicago" and we both tripped over our feet and fell down on top of each other on the dance floor. Then Tim ran over and piled on top of us.

    Throughout the weekend I prowled the Quarter wearing a suit and a Nixon mask, bumping into people intentionally and growling, "Pardon me. Pardon me." I don’t know how many people actually got the joke.
    By Monday (Lundi Gras) most of the people we’d come to town with had gone back home. I was exhausted and decided to take it easy so I could save up my strength for Fat Tuesday. I went to a coffee house in the Faubourg Marigny, and sat outside writing postcards. I used to dress rather foppishly back then, and on this day I was wearing a tweed jacket and a bow tie.

    A trio of goths walked past and aimed languid gazes my way. These weren’t your garden-variety goths, though. They were 19th century Lestat-wannabes.

    They walked on and I returned to my writing, but a few seconds later, their leader, a tall young man carrying a walking stick and wearing a cape, returned.

    -My friends and I think you look interesting. Are you a local?

    -No, just in town for Mardi Gras.

    -What’s your name?

    -(Too shocked to think up a lie) James Bankston.

    -(Extending a bony hand with long fingernails that were sharpened to a point.) Hello, James. My name is Vincent. What are you doing later tonight?

    -Um, uh, I’m supposed to meet my friends at the Cathedral at midnight.

    -Well, my friends and I have rented a boat at Wharf # ___ and we’re having a party there later on tonight. I’m sure you have interesting friends. If you all would like, you should come to our party tonight.

    -Uh, um, I’ll definitely consider it.


    -Remember, Wharf # __.

    I put the conversation out of my mind and spent the evening wandering the Quarter alone. A little before midnight I went to the Cathedral and sat on the steps, waiting for friends that never showed up. I looked around for signs of them, then noticed to my horror the three goths sitting on a bench fifty feet away. That creeped me out and I got the hell out of there.

    Oddly enough, I passed them again later that night, but they looked straight ahead and didn’t seem to notice me.

    God, had I gone to that party those freaks could’ve cut my still-beating heart out and ripped out my spinal cord in some ghastly vampire sacrifice. I need to be less friendly to strangers.

    As it was, our partying caught up with us and Tim and I overslept on Fat Tuesday and missed all but the last, small-scale parade of the day. Canal Street and the Quarter were too crowded, so we went to ritzy St. Charles Avenue. A local radio station had a remote going on in front of the most exclusive funeral home in town. They had enormous Marshall amps set up on the funeral home’s portico and were blasting Van Halen’s "Running with the Devil."

    --------------------------------------------------

    The crowd of refugees at the Superdome was estimated at 60,000 souls by late Thursday afternoon. People were now shitting on the floor there. There were rumors of rapes at the Superdome, murders at the Convention Center. Police were photographed looting. People dropped dead on the march to shelter, and their bodies were left where they fell on the elevated freeways.

    Apparently the initial estimates that 80% of the population evacuated before the storm were incorrect, and the number’s closer only to 60%.

    I heard the authorities were pulling police and others off search-and-rescue missions so they could combat the looting and general lawlessness at the city’s center. There were rumors the frustrated, angry, and hungry locals might soon riot.

    The "Chicago Tribune" reported that some people managed through all the floods and storms to save their pets, only to be told today they couldn’t bring them aboard the evacuation busses. Cops pried pets from the hands of crying refugee children who had nothing else left in the world. One kid cried so hard he started vomitting. Anyone that would make such a draconian order is a vile cocksucker!

    The Feds finally swung into action, but it seemed far too little, far too late. I can’t help but think the government has thus far been much too blase about this.

    My last trip to New Orleans was for Mardi Gras 1993. We were only going to stay from Friday night until Sunday morning, so I decided I would just have to get by with only one hour of sleep. This was a bad idea, and I got so exhausted I feel asleep in a crowded restaurant a block off Canal, around 11 or 12 on Saturday night. I was taken back to Tim’s aunt’s house and slept for 12 hours, waking right before we packed up to leave. I missed much of Saturday night’s festivities.

    But while I was still awake I made the best of my time. Friday night, I was sitting in the Maple Leaf Bar listening to zydeco singer Rockin’ Dopsie, drinking a foul Black Mamba beer. Tim sauntered in, claiming he had just seen Jimmy Page across the street at the Muddy Waters Bar, ripping through a selection of Zeppelin tunes.

    Tim is a compulsive liar, but not in a bad way–he just loves to stir shit up. So I didn’t believe him. A few minutes later some of our other friends came in and started raving about Jimmy Page. I still wasn’t sure–maybe they were in on this with Tim.

    "Bullshit," I said. "Mason Ruffner’s playing across the street–I saw the sign." "But," they explained, "Jimmy Page was there playing with Mason Ruffner." I decided to investigate. When I got to the door of Muddy Waters, I heard total strangers talking about Jimmy Page and realized I had indeed missed the show.

    Page was seated up in the mezzanine, but his manager allowed us to come up and pay our respects and get autographs. I had privately hoped Page would write down some obscure Aleister Crowley spell on my scrap of paper, but instead he just scrawled, "Rock on, James."

    For months after the ‘92 trip I kept hearing various people, who did not know one another, tell me I reminded them of the main character in the book "Confederacy of Dunces," Ignatius J. Reilly. My ego was aroused, so I read the book and was embarrassed by how on-target it was in some, but not all, particulars. I will not, however, explain which points apply and which don’t. Suffice it to say that when I crossed Canal during the ‘93 trip I was tickled when I heard some tourists gasp, "Is that Ignatius J. Reilly?"

    I made my way to an old pipe shop in the Quarter. At the time I smoked cigars, pipes, and cigarettes at a heavy rate. The man who founded this particular shop used to make pipes for Jefferson Davis. His grandson made pipes for William Faulkner, and later, for me.

    But this was a real pipe shop. There weren’t any bullshit gifts cluttering the place up–no ceramic figures, no wooden walls clocks with decoupaged pictures of the flag and the American eagle. The walls, ceiling, windows, and glass display cases were all stained nicotine brown.

    The owner, Mr. Edwin Jansen, an octogenarian then, discouraged quick drop-in business. He preferred that you spend an hour or so in the shop, talking with him, taking your time to select which of his handmade pipes suited you best.

    Once you picked a design that felt good in the hand and the mouth, he’d take a rag and wipe a dollop of honey inside the bowl, then twist in his own pipe tobacco mixture in a corkscrew motion, and hand it back to you with a box of matches so you could give it a trial smoke. By this point you were so relaxed and blissed-out you were ready to purchase anything he wanted to sell you.

    Late Saturday afternoon found my feet sore and swollen, so I went to sit on the Cathedral steps. Then some grunge kids walked up to me.

    -‘Scuse me--Are you a local?

    -No, but what can I do for you?

    -Dude, have you ever seen "Easy Rider"?

    I immediately knew they wanted directions to the cemetery where the acid trip scene in "Easy Rider" was filmed, so they could recreate it themselves.

    -You’ll want the St. Louis Cemetery #1. It’s six blocks that way. But it closes at 4pm, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

    They were gleeful and amazed that I’d somehow read their minds and knew exactly what they wanted.


    Later that night I was standing in a crowd of several hundred thousand people packedthisclosetogether on Canal Street, watching the Bacchus parade. Most of my friends were closer to the front of the crowd than I was, but I was loaded down with bags of my day’s purchases and wanted a bit more breathing room.


    Some guy ahead of me turned to his right and got the attention of a young woman. "I like your white beads," he said. "What could I give you for them?" "Whaddya got?," she said.

    He unzipped his fly and pulled out his pecker. She reached out and began working it. And I was thinking, "This guy is getting beads and a hand-job? What’s she getting out of this?"

    The guy’s eyes began rolling back into his head. I began to worry that I was going to get more than beer spilled on me this year. But just before the critical moment, the woman let go of the pecker, and turned to her right, picking up a conversation with her friends as if nothing had just happened.

    The guy was shocked and horrified. He zipped up, then turned back to his left, where his girlfriend had been standing all along, obliviously watching the parade. He began kissing her violently, passionately. And apart from him and the young women, I was the only person in the world who knew what had just gone on.

    I hate to think such a perverse, weird, and disturbingly charming city may be gone forever.


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