Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day Fourteen

Two weeks in New Orleans. Our time here is about to end. We will leave for Texas on Sunday, and I am really not sure what sort of mental state I will find myself when I go in to “work” on Monday. Honestly, I will feel like I have “moved” away again from New Orleans. Killeen is the place where I work. Then again, I am sure I will be asking Kat, Cheryl and Alicia over for dinner. I need to cook some gumbo and some red beans and rice and I’ll have way too much food just for me. Cooking brings me back home to New Orleans all the time. That, and listening to WWOZ on the internet.

Friday morning began with breakfast with my father, Mr. Bob French. We meet at Li’l Dizzy’s, the great restaurant in the Treme. It was also featured quite a bit in the series “Treme.” Bob commands a large presence, and everyone greets him like a king at Dizzy’s. Everyone also asks when he will be back on the air—they miss his honest “on-the-air” commentary that they say is lacking on radio these days. Bob chuckles and says he’s done with radio. Still, people come by the table and practically beg Bob to come back on the air.

I am not going to go into any detail as to why Bob is not on the air, though I know why. After talking with Bob often after the April incident, I am convinced he is relishing his time off the air. I believe him when he says he doesn’t want to go back. I’ve talked with others who are close to Bob while here the past two weeks and opinions are mixed. Some say that he “needs” to be back on the air for his career’s sake. Others say that Bob is agonizing over the fact that he is not on the air. Still others concur with me that they believe he is happier off the radio. He tells me that he enjoys his free mornings, and he’s actually getting more things done now.

Cece begins the interview with Bob and he tells of his evacuation out of the city to Washington, D.C. He had a room at a hotel for the storm because he had a gig the night before downtown. He decided against staying, though, when he realized the severity of the storm. He remembers Betsy very well—he and his whole family got caught behind with Betsy and nearly lost all their lives in that storm. Modest as ever, Bob believes the “best bite” in New Orleans is at his house—he makes the best gumbo in the whole city. I’ve had it before—it’s pretty damn good. He doesn’t believe things have changed all that much in the last five years, and I concur with this observation. Physically, I believe the city is seeing some progress in rebuilding, though I have observed often over the past two weeks blocks of communities still devastated after the storm. There is no beauty in whole neighborhoods dressed in “decay and neglect.”

When Cece asks the question about Ray Nagin, Bob let’s out a big and loud laugh and says he can’t say what comes to mind first because Cece is only 16. When pressed, he says “stupid.” He also says that he hates Ray Nagin. Bob is one who doesn’t mince his words. When asked to complete the sentence “New Orleans will….”—Bob replies “New Orleans will survive.” It always has—it’s been around for a long time, survived many other calamities, and will be around long after we are all dead and gone.

As we end the interview, we see our friends Bill and Pat taking their morning run through the block. They are friends with Bob as well. Bill and Pat live in Galveston, but have a house in New Orleans that they come back to every other weekend. Bill and Pat’s nephew went to school with Cece in Houston. This world is truly small. They’re here to attend a friend’s wedding. They invite all of us to Chickie-Wah-Wah later tonight where the wonderful Paul Sanchez holds court every Friday. We all say we might attend, though I am not likely to be locked into any plan for our last two days here in New Orleans.

We say our goodbyes to Bill, Pat and Bob and head to Cece’s work. With her interviews complete, she will download all the information to Blake’s computer. I head out to Magazine Street—I need to get to Aiden Gill to pick up some cologne and a fleur-de-lis bow tie. It’s a tradition with me—I buy one bow tie at the beginning of every school year. My “costume” as a professor is completed with the bow tie. I’ve been looking for some new cologne as well, and I know that Aiden Gill carries great lines for men. Once I make my purchase, I grab an late morning margarita from Juan’s Flying Burrito (it is, after all, 5 O’Clock somewhere) and wander aimlessly down Magazine to Jackson Street. Before too long, I find myself all the way to Pop-City Uptown. I chat a bit with Dave and Rhonda, who are having their morning coffee at Roux de la Course, and I thank Rhonda specifically for her hospitality and for providing me the chance to spend two weeks with my daughter. This has been a great time for Cece and I to fully reconnect.

Cece finally calls, and I get in the car to go pick her up. I get a chance to chat with Blake about events for the weekend, and he mentions the Friday Night Fights on Freret Street. I’m not one for “fights”, but the topic of organized fighting events on Freret Street intrigues me. Blake tells me that it would be a great photographic event. I agree, though I am not sure I will make it out there. Throughout the rest of the day, I will roll around in my mind the possibility of going out there for the fights. In the end, Cece and I choose to stay in the Quarter.

Cece and I head out to Hansen’s for quite possibly our last Hot Rod for the visit, though there’s always a chance we’ll get another one on Saturday. It’s damn hot these days, and nothing better to survive the heat than a Hansen’s SnowBliz. We get there as they open at 1pm. There is already a line out the door when we get there. As we place our order, the woman behind the counter relays to Cece the message that Ashley was really impressed with Cece’s interview. Ashley’s been interviewed by many people since the storm, but Cece impressed Ashley with the way she delivered her questions and with the fact that she presented so much maturity for a 16-year-old. Cece is very thankful. I am extremely proud. I am sure that Ashley will remember Cece every time she comes back to visit Hansen’s.

Outside of Hansen’s, we say hello to a group of tourists who I’ve noticed not only here at Hansen’s but earlier in the morning at Li’l Dizzy’s. I tell them that I’m impressed that they’ve strayed from the “usual” tourist places and find themselves in neighborhood gems. They explain to me that they are from Chicago, but have a condo here in New Orleans. They have brought their sister and nephews from Colorado to New Orleans for a visit. Yeah you right—showing them the “real” New Orleans. Somehow the discussion comes around to the Storm, how I’m in Texas, and when will I come back.

I have heard that question over and over on this trip….

We say goodbye to the tourists and make our way back to the house for a short rest. We may need the rest to handle the rest of the night.

Friday Night Fights doesn’t materialize for us, though I continue to be intrigued by the idea. Cece and I find ourselves once again in the Quarter, walking down Royal Street with no particular place to go. Shops are still open, though they are getting ready to close. We walk all the way to Iberville, and then make our way back down Chartres. I pick up a Sazerac at the Chart Room, and Cece picks up an antique book from the bookstore. Another slow walk through the Plaza de Armes, and we see Bike Guy getting ready to head out with a whole pack of bikers for Friday’s “Critical Mass” ride. The organizer tells us that they are going to ride out to the East so that others can see the closeness of the oil damage in the region. I am not sure if I will see Bike Guy again, but I have promised him once again he can rest at our house in Killeen if he makes it up that far during his Austin leg of his travels.

The only other place outside of Hansen’s where we eat for a second time is Fiorella’s. After all of their changes and turmoil since the Storm, they really have their cooking act together. Cece has the angel hair pasta, and I have (once again) the three-piece dark. Once again, I am fully satisfied. It’s all good.

We head out to hear the street music on Frenchman Street, and once again I find myself on the corner of Frenchman and Royal listening to the brass band playing great second-line music. There is a convention of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority taking place in town, and it seems quite a few have found themselves to Frenchman. The brass band commands their interest and respect, as they should. There are deep roots in brass band music, and many Delta’s realize this. I’m happy to see this interaction taking place on the street.

Though Kermit Ruffins is going on stage at the Blue Nile at 11, Cece and I are both tired from a long day. We head back to the house and relax. We don’t actually fall asleep for a while, but I am once again content knowing that the city is alive all around us, and I close my eyes knowing that I am more alive with this reality.

This is probably my last long blog chronicling this visit until late Sunday night when I return to Texas. I now that Saturday brings us an early morning visit to the Quarter to take pictures, and then lunch with Miss Lee, Devin’s former nanny and our former next-door neighbor in the Broadmoor. I am not sure what the rest of the day holds for us, but one never plans for things in New Orleans. One let’s New Orleans happen.

I am honestly getting emotional right now about the thought of leaving Sunday. I had better let this go for now.

Eh La Bas!!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day Thirteen

Today’s essay I’ve got to run through quickly because I’ve got an 8am breakfast date with my father, Mr. Bob French. We’re meeting him at Lil’ Dizzy’s in the Treme, and I am sure this is going to be a very long breakfast. I will post my thoughts on this on Saturday.

Thursday was the most casual day of this trip, yet Cece and I accomplished so much. After a much needed night of sleep, we ventured to City Park to go to the New Orleans Museum of Art. I love spending time in this place, and I wanted to show Cece a few particular items in the gallery. It was nice to learn that they have “all day free” Wednesdays, and they stay open on those days all the way up to 9pm. What a great opportunity to see some great art collections for free. But since this was Thursday, Cece and I paid “out of state” ticket prices. Must be an aftereffect of the storm.

In the modern art gallery, I introduced Cece to one of my favorite pieces—Picasso’s “Woman In An Armchair.” I was always impressed by the painting and by the fact that it was in the New Orleans Museum of Art. I would come down to the museum at lunch sometimes just to view this piece. It is worth the price of admission. On the same floor, there is a Jackson Pollack piece. I don’t remember what it is called, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. As much as I try, I still can’t quite figure it out. Art, like Jazz, is an expression of one’s emotion through a medium. It is an expressive art form. Coltrane’s “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” reminds me of how something completely abstract can make perfect sense to me. Still, Pollack’s work is a bit too “easy” to seem abstract. Lines and swirls are indeed filled with expressive potential. Yet, if the expression is only “understandable” to the artist, I am not sure if it makes much sense.

After the Museum, Cece and I head to Parkway Tavern for their famous poboys. I choose the Roast Beef with Debris, while Cece chooses the Shrimp. Once we get our sandwiches, she is amazed by how much shrimp is on her sandwich. There is no way she can eat the whole thing, and we only ordered a “half” sandwich. I try to tell her that one of the great selling points of New Orleans food is the bounty of it all. Pure gluttony at times. She looks at me like she understands, but she also takes half the shrimp and sets it aside to eat later.

Fully stuffed from the Parkway Tavern, we head back to the house to rest up for an early afternoon outing. Cece is going to enjoy the Quarter while I’m doing my show at WWOZ. It takes me only “two hours” today to put the show together—and even with this effort I know I’m only going to use a few cuts from the music I select.

Doing this third and final show at WWOZ seemed rather melancholy to me. I enjoy getting the phone calls and the email messages from listeners, and it is always satisfying to know that people are enjoying the selections. There is lots of “funky” jazz on the current set list for today. And, as usual, I put in lots of classic jazz like Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, and Davis. I thought I would end my show with some vocals, and I play one cut by Kaya Martinez off of her recording Embrace. Cece had interviewed Kaya earlier this week. It was a wonderful show, and it ended much too quickly for me. Indeed, this whole trip has been such a quick and indeed beautiful time to be back home.

I really enjoy playing this music, and I believe I can do it on a weekly basis. The biggest problem is that there are no opportunities to play Jazz on the radio in close proximity to where I currently live. I have tried internet radio, but that is expensive. I have to buy much of the current music, and the subscription price I must maintain for the use of the internet radio station kept getting more expensive. I finally had to drop my show last year. But after doing three shows back at WWOZ, I am tempted to revisit the idea of doing an online show once again. I guess I’ll sleep on this a bit when I get back to Texas.

We end our early evening interviewing my former graduate student Elise about her experiences during Katrina and her thoughts about Katrina-5. She and her boyfriend Justin own a bar in the Hospital District in the CBD. They’ve had this bar since February 2005. The cinder-block and brick building sustained minimal damage during the storm—nothing that couldn’t be repaired relatively quickly once they had the chance to get back to clean up and once their insurance money came in. Their house in Mid-City, though, took a bit longer to repair. Only recently have they been able to move out of their backyard apartment and into the main house. It has taken them nearly 5 years to complete the work on their house.

Elise’s story is very similar to the others we have heard on this trip. Basically, the city has “recovered” at a much slower pace than we thought, but it has gotten back on it’s feet. We are all hopeful that the city will continue to recover. Elise’s first words that come to mind when she hears the name “Ray Nagin” is “crazy.” She thoroughly believes he went crazy mental after the storm. She raises a good point—I believe he did as well.

Cece and I decide after the interview that we are going to call it a night. She wants to spend some time with Bike Guy, and I “chaperone” a meeting they have close by that lasts until midnight. I’m falling asleep during this time, and I finally tell them I need to go to bed. He departs, but I promise him a warm meal and a place to stay for a bit if he ever finds his way up to Killeen. I am sure he won’t take me up on that offer, but you never know.

As Cece and I head into our last two days in New Orleans, I am trying to keep as open an agenda as I can. We’ll meet with Bob French on Friday morning, and then we’ll meet with Miss Lee on Saturday afternoon. Cece is going out with Camera Guy on Saturday morning for lessons on how to shoot the Quarter, and I must find a Wal-Mart to pick up this year’s Saints shirt and hat. When it comes right down to it, I see lots of walking and photography in my two days ahead. That and one more Hansen’s and one more Sazerac.

Yeah you right!!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day Twelve

Much of the early part of Wednesday was dedicated to “recovery.” I am not one to stay up too many times after 3am, so the previous night did slow me down on Wednesday. I am just glad I didn’t have too much to drink or else I would have been nursing a hangover too, and that would have done me in for the whole day. But with an occasional cat-nap in the afternoon, I was able to bounce back and capture another incredible day in New Orleans.

I took Cece to her first interview in the late morning. She had arranged an interview with Ashley Hansen, and we arrived just before Noon at the greatest place in the whole-wide-world—Hansen’s Snowballs. I already knew much of Ashley’s evacuation story, but her retelling of this for the first time face-to-face with me would remind me of the many who experienced great pain in the evacuation.

Cece has a tendency to be a bit shy in her interviews, especially with those who she doesn’t know. She started asking Ashley basic questions about background (name, neighborhood, occupation), and there is one question she reads through a bit too fast—the evacuation question. “Did you evacuate?” and “What did you do when you first got back?” Ashley answered “yes” to the evacuation question, and after answering that she went to the shop to see what damages it experienced when she first got back, she asked Cece if she could answer the evacuation question again. “How much depth do you want for this answer” Ashley asked. Cece stated “as much as you want.”

Ashley recounted how she and her family had never evacuated for a storm before. This would be no different, and the possibility of evacuating this time was compounded by the fact that her grandmother was already hospitalized in Touro Infirmary. But after watching the news and seeing the potential severity of the storm, Ashley urged her father and her grandfather to come with her to evacuate. The elder Mr. Hansen (Earnest—the originator of the Hansen Snobliz machine) declined to evacuate and chose instead to spend his time with his ailing wife Mary. He checked in to Touro, which according to Ashley was already looking chaotic. It was her grandfather’s birthday, and she gave him his presents as she dropped him off at Touro.

She evacuated with as many of her prized possessions she could fit into her air-condition-less VW Golf. She had to make room as well for her father’s belongings and two of her neighbor’s cats. Her father was bringing his dog as well. They had originally planned on evacuating to Alexandria, but the traffic and getting on the wrong contra-flow out of the city pushed them to Jackson, MS. After over 12 hours on the road, they settled in Jackson.

It is in Jackson that they hear the levees have broken.

As for many of us who learned of that fatal news late Monday afternoon, she knew her city was in peril. More important for Ashley, her grandparents were at Touro and in danger for their lives.

Ashley and her father turned around and headed back to New Orleans.

Ashley would not find her grandparents for one more week.

They had been airlifted out of Touro by the Coast Guard, and they were placed in separate hospitals in another state. As Ashley confided, they had never spent any time separated from each other, and now in all this chaos they were to be separated without knowing where each other was. In reality, they were in two hospitals in the same town just miles from each other. Still, the fact that they could not see each other was taxing on their condition.

Ashley was able to find and reunite them. But for Earnest and Mary Hansen, a couple that adored each other and had never been without each other, all the events of the evacuation would take it’s toll. Mary died a few days after being discovered by Ashley, on September 8, 2005. Earnest would pass away on May 30, 2006.

The smile on Ashley’s face has long faded during this interview. I find myself holding back tears as she talks about this story. Again, it is a story I am familiar with—in my neighborhood, my next door neighbor experienced the same tragedy of sorts, and I spent the better half of September helping her find her ailing diabetic son. Ashley brings me back to that time with vivid and personal detail. Katrina turned all of our lives upside down—even for those of us who have recovered in five years.

Ashley continues to answer Cece’s questions—she is optimistic about the future of New Orleans, but there is so much more that needs to be done. Her favorite “bite” is a Hansen’s Snowbliz with Nectar. Who can argue with that. And when she is asked about what comes to mind when she hears the name “Ray Nagin,” she is quick with a response. “Scoundrel”, she says. I couldn’t agree with her more.

Ashley’s interview was the deepest and most personal of the interviews we have heard in the past two weeks. Mr. David’s interview is up there too. I can see that the questions have made Ashley think about a time she really is uncomfortable talking about. I can also see that she finds it important to talk about this time to others.

Ashley invites us to have a Snowbliz after the interview, but they aren’t open yet and I beg off for another day. I am sure that we will stop by there Thursday or Friday for another Hot Rod. It will be the only food place I will go to over three times on this trip. Yeah you right!!!

Cece and I decide on “Slice” for lunch. They’ve opened up a new restaurant on Magazine Street, across from the Whole Foods. We’ve heard that it is the best pizza in town, and once we get our slices, there is no doubt to me that the stories are accurate. My “meat lovers” slice is incredible, and Cece’s “white pizza” slice is equally great. Prices are extremely reasonable, and we may come back here before the end of the trip as well for one more bite.

We head to Rouses after lunch where I collect the ingredients I need to make gumbo today for my neighbors in Broadmoor. Two pounds of shrimp and one pound of andouille should do us fine. And after a bit of a rest back at the house, I begin putting my gumbo together.

Making roux in someone else’s kitchen with someone else’s pots and utensils is like wearing someone else’s underwear. It “fits,” but it just doesn’t feel right.

I can’t find the proper spoon to make roux with—it’s too small, and it’s not metal. As I mix the butter and flour together, my hand gets occasionally splattered with the hot roux. As I turn the pot, the metal handles are hot and burn too. Making roux is not supposed to be a joyful experience anyway, and this only adds to the labor. Still, after a while I’ve got the right color roux, and I begin making my gumbo. One hour later, and a few tastes along the way, it’s ready to go. We pack it up and head over to Jack and Sherry’s.

Cece is going to interview my friend JC about his experience during the storm. I let her settle in to the interview while Jack, Sherry and I begin having our gumbo. I am happy that Jack and Sherry love the gumbo. JC concurs once the interview is through, and much to my amazement Cece is not only having some—she also likes it! Cece’s doesn’t deviate far in her culinary tastes—and the fact that she likes my gumbo implies that there is still some hope that I’ll get her to love the rest of my New Orleans cooking. One can only hope.

We talk about the Saints and the HBO series Treme while at Jack’s house. I tell everyone about some of my “superstitions” for the games, including not calling JC ever before a game. I’ve still got to get a new shirt and hat from Wal-Mart—an important part of the superstition from last year. “Treme” conjures up a good conversation about how the writers and directors got it “right,” but it still puzzles us how anyone outside of New Orleans would “get” the show. The stories of each character we are familiar with, but what does it mean to folks in Michigan? We all concur, though, that is was a great series. I’m still curious what “new” stories they will come up with in the next season.

After dinner, Cece and I head to the Quarter. We intend to walk around the Quarter with no particular plan or purpose. It’s the type of walks we used to take in our neighborhood or in other parts of New Orleans. To a certain extent, it reminds me of the times Susan and I would venture out on Wednesday nights in the Jeep with the top down. Our neighbor Miss Lee would babysit Devin, and Susan and I would stop by the Daiquiri shop on Carrollton to get our drinks, drive through Uptown on Magazine, follow Magazine into the Quarter as it turns into Chartres Street, roll down through Decatur Street, and then come back along Royal Street, back to our house. A trip with no particular purpose—other than to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the City.

Nightime walks in the Quarter are beautiful this time of year. Once again, Cece and I own the Quarter. Few tourists are out. Some shops are still open. Restaurants all seem full, though. We casually find ourselves at Café Envie on Decatur Street, and Cece is happy to find that “Camera Guy” is working behind the counter.

Camera Guy is named “Bob”, and he looks much too clean cut to be working at Café Envie. He is a photographer, but he has had to work “real jobs” in order to have time for his art-form. He enjoys talking about photography, and he especially enjoys teaching Cece about photographic theory. He goes to his car and brings us his Nikon Medium Format camera. It’s one of the largest cameras I’ve ever seen, and he sets it up on his tripod so that Cece can work with it. I’m impressed by the pictures he’s taken with it. He likes to work in Black and Whites, though he’s starting to work more in color these days. Bob also has his own darkroom, and this helps with the ease of his photographic work. Cece is beginning to see that there is a vibrant artists community here in New Orleans. They may not yet be “famous,” but they are working passionately on their art.

I find myself sitting at the counter with an Abita, reading the latest Offbeat, and enjoying the cool air-conditioning inside Envie. The sounds of the street come in from the open door, and the “kay-rack-ters” of Decatur Street come in and out of the Café. I find myself truly at peace in the Café, and I feel like I could live here forever.

Cece and I are now into our last three days in New Orleans. There are two people on my list I must see, and there is at least one place I still need to take Cece too. I’ve got a show to do this afternoon, and I am looking forward to this as well. It’s going to be another great day back home. I’ve got to find a way back, I just know it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day Eleven

New Orleans has a way of forgiving people who turn in at 3:00 in the morning. It’s relative neglect for time follows one to the next day where “being late” is acceptable at least once a week. Sometimes, we find that “not coming to work” is acceptable every once in a while as well. I love New Orleans for this. Last night was one of those nights where I would like to use my “being late” cards today.

Tuesdays in New Orleans are slow, and yesterday was no exception. The city is full of locals—the tourists are few and the neon-green t-shirt clad Lutherans are long gone. A bit of excitement takes place in the neighborhood early in the morning—police cars race through the neighborhood at 8am and I know that this means trouble. Sure enough—reading the morning news online, I discover that there has been a murder in our neighborhood just five blocks down the street. It is a drug related murder. I am surprised at how “ho-hum” I actually take the news when I find out. This is New Orleans, I rationalize.

Cece and I start the day at work, and by noon we find ourselves reconnecting to conduct interviews and to catch up with Allen and Jacob. We decide to direct Allen and Jacob to lunch at Domilise’s—one of the best po-boy shops in the city. Parkway Tavern and Domilise’s are my favorite places, but Parkway is closed on Tuesdays (for some unknown reason). I am the only person who does not order a shrimp poboy—I choose the incredible roast beef poboy, smothered in may-o-naze and debris. I save a good part of it for lunch later in the week.

Next, we head to Hansen’s for Allen and Jacob’s first bona-fide New Orleans snowball. We are there at 1pm (opening) and the line is already out the door. This is my second visit to Hansen’s, and I am sure it is not my last on this trip. Today, Ashley is there with her sincere “sweet as sugar pie” smile. If there is a nicer person in the whole world, I would like to know. Her wonderful energy is contagious. Cece secures an interview with Ashley for Wednesday, and we order our round of Hansen’s Hot Rod’s.

Allen and Jacob find themselves in heaven, and I am happy that I have led new people to an insider’s paradise. There aren’t many tourists on this side of town—Hansen’s, though, is an institution and will attract the tourists through word-of-mouth. Allen and Jacob thank me for this bit of insider New Orleans, and they head out of town with Hot Rod’s in hand back to Texas.

Cece and I continue with the afternoon running some errands. The evening will be filled with an interview with my friend Kaya, and then Zephyr baseball with Jason. I get a call from Lynn Drury that she wants us to see her new apartment in the Bywater. Her tone informs me that she really wants us to see her new apartment, and I promise to call her when we get back from baseball.

Kaya works at McDonough 15. She is one of their music teachers. She shows us her room, which is set up as a small stage with seating and lighting in a cabaret style. She is very proud of the work she has done with her room, and I get an idea that my students in Texas could be part of this school with their service work next summer. Cece completes the interview, and then after our goodbyes we are on our way to Metairie to pick up Jason for the baseball game.

Cece informs me of how much the Zephyrs game reminds her of times we had together in New Orleans prior to the storm. Of all the things that she says that spark her pre-Katrina memories of us, this one touches my heart the most. I am glad I was successful in turning something I love so much—baseball—into a wonderful memory for her. Over the years, I have had lots of fun with all the kids taking them to baseball games. I am glad it is a time full of memories for all of them.

Jason and I talk baseball during the whole game. He has become more than a good player—he has become a true fan of the game. He knows the history and the strategy. He knows the passion as well. He admires players who play with all their hearts, and has a disdain for those who don’t take the game seriously. Jason plans to walk-on this year at UNO, and I truly believe he can make the team. I hope to see him play next year for UNO—I will travel to his road games if he does make the team.

The game is a pitcher’s duel, and the Z’s win 1-to-nothing in a game that takes just two hours to play. I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed such a short game. But it turns out to be a great time with Jason. I am very happy I got the chance to see him today.

On the way to the house, I call Lynn to let her know we would like to come by and see her. It’s not late, due to the short game, and we finally connect at 10:30 to go see her new apartment.

She lives in the “new” Artist’s Lofts in the Bywater. I am not sure who put this site together, but it is one of the best conceptual living and art spaces I have ever seen. It can be a significant housing anchor for the area, and it provides real affordable housing for the kind of people New Orleans needs to attract and retain as it recovers after Katrina. Lynn has every right to be proud of her new space. The artists all feed off of each other—the passion for their work motivates others to be creative. It is a safe and secure sight, with lots of space for collaboration and the use of shared resources. There needs to be more housing like this in New Orleans. I need to find out more about this space.

Cece eventually falls asleep in the living room, and as Lynn and I talk about her upcoming recording and tour, she begins to make cookies for us. It is nearly 3am, and once the cookies are finished I realize that Cece and I must get back home.

This is our longest night out, but one that is worth every moment. I am happy that Lynn finds herself in such a creative venue, and I hope that she can use the energy of this site to further her career.

In New Orleans, a night that lasts to 3am is not too unusual, even for the early week. I am glad I didn’t drink during the night—I know that all I will be suffering from on Wednesday will be a bit of fatigue.

We have another day full of interviews today. Hopefully, I’ll find the time for a nap too!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day Ten

There are certain places where we know we belong. The symbiosis of place, image, interaction, and culture create an environment where we feel natural and truly an integral part. New Orleans is that place for me—it is truly who I am. During the last 10 days, I have once again been reassured that this is the place I must ultimately live in for my final days. At least the cognizant days—with or without liquor. I honestly feel like I have more friends here than I do in Killeen where I have lived for almost 5 years. I do not really know nor do I really interact with my neighbors. Attempts are made, but no long-standing relationships emerge. I can count on one hand my true friendships in Killeen. Here, I have had the opportunity to reconnect with many friends over the nearly two week period. The reality of life makes it difficult for Susan and I to move back to New Orleans, but there is a strong piece of me right now that longs to buy one of these old shops or bars in the Bywater and reopen it. We could take the upstairs part and live in it. I could live out my final days “holding court” behind my bar—lecturing on sociology if anyone would listen. It is a fantasy thought, but fantasies do come true every once in a while in New Orleans.

This Monday was similar to last Monday—a pleasant and slow day. I spent the morning grading papers and attending to administrative work, and Cece spent a few hours at her internship. In the late afternoon, I helped hustle some of my friends for her to interview. The week is filling up with folks to speak with, and we begin on Tuesday with my dear friend Kaya, a teacher at McDonough 15 in the French Quarter. I believe she teaches music there, but she may have her own 2nd Grade class as well. She is also a local vocalist and percussionist. Kaya evacuated with us during Katrina, and I ended up driving her all the way to Houston so she could catch a plane back to her home in Arizona. She has an interesting story to tell, I am sure.

My colleague Allen is in town with his son Jacob, and I go down to the Quarter to give them a quick walking tour. Jacob has been convinced by Allen that I am an expert on the Quarter. I only really know the bars, though (right). Allen and Jacob are only in town for the night—they leave to go back to Killeen on Tuesday. New Orleans is a beautiful city, but a one day visit does not do it justice. I can handle a quick one-day visit because I know what to do and who to see on a quick visit. I’m not sure what a tourist can see if they only have 24 hours to do New Orleans in.

Earlier in the day, Cece convinced me that we should go see a movie. Her choice is the new Leonardo di Caprio movie “Inception.” Since it’s playing at the Prytania Theater, I agree. She hasn’t seen a movie there since before the storm. Honestly, I think that’s the last time I saw one there too. The Prytania Theater is one of the last truly neighborhood theaters in the country. A neighborhood moviehouse—wow, what a novel concept! Tonight’s show draws a pretty large crowd, and Cece has invited “Bike Guy” to come along. He’s now staying with a friend in St. Roch. He is truly living a frontier lifestyle now.

The movie is very good and very captivating. Some might call it a “sci-fi” thriller, though the only “sci-fi” element to the movie is the way people are invoked into a dream state. It is pure thriller, with multiple layers of activity taking place. This is the second movie I’ve seen where Di Caprio plays someone who is out of touch with reality—“Shutter Island” was an excellent movie, though somewhat predictable. I’m impressed with his new work.

Though there is lots to do that is “free” on Monday, Cece and I turn in early tonight. We drive home through the Quarter, and I see a number of friends out for walks. I say hello to Jacques Morial and will give him a call later on Tuesday. I also see my friend John, who is out walking his two very big Rotweiler’s. I am glad we are turning in early, because as we settle in, the heaven’s open up again with a downpour.

This has been a wonderful visit for me, not just to be back in New Orleans, but also to spend so much quality time with my daughter. Before my divorce, I had so many “plans” for my interactions with her. So much of that was lost in the distance (both physical and mental) that became part of our relationship. I know she remembers very little of how I would read to her at night, or how I would swing her in my arms as if I were a big tree and toss her back down onto her bed after the reading. I was not there for her on a daily basis when I should have been. Now that she is a young woman, I am honored to hear her open up with her dreams, aspirations, and intellectual ideas. She is very similar to me in many ways, including holding one’s emotions close to the heart. But I can feel that we are getting so much closer from this time together, and this is probably the best thing that has come from this trip for me.

Today intends to be another slow day. I have begun to upload my pictures to my flickr site, and I hope to get out into the streets a bit today to take more pictures, especially in a neighborhood I have very few pictures of—the Bywater. I am nearly finished with grading papers. My administrative tasks can be taken care of daily. I might just call a realtor up today about a certain bar for sale in the Bywater. You never know what new opportunities might be just around the corner.

Yeah you right!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day Nine

When was the last time you walked through your neighborhood and something, indeed many things, brought a smile to your face? These Bywater morning walks continue to amuse me. The beauty of decay and neglect abound, but it’s the little things that make me smile. The advertisement for “Pie Ho” Pizza, the painting on the outside wall at Frady’s warning of a local mugger, the beautiful roses and other flower bushes in people’s yards, the occasional small child’s toy or bike on the front porch, the cat in the window…. I am enjoying these morning walks. They bring me back to life.

I got out to a later start Sunday morning, due in large part to a wonderful but “late” Saturday night. “Late” is relative—the fact that we left the Blue Nile after one set, and that set did not end until 1am, and it appeared that we were the only ones leaving, tells the true story of what I consider “late” and what New Orleans considers “late.” My friend Lisa had been out the night before all the way to sunrise, and perhaps even later. That “might” be considered late in New Orleans….

Once infused with early afternoon coffee, Cece and I venture back to Simon’s shop on Magazine and Jackson. She is interested in interviewing him for her project. Once again, I am amazed at the “cordial” response Simon gives when describing how he feels about Ray Nagin. He too must pause for quite a long time before he responds with “in the end, Nagin will be remembered for doing something good.” I can’t think of a thing Nagin did “good” for the city, but perhaps Simon knows more than I. Still, Simone cannot name a good thing either.

Cece heads out on Magazine Street in search of another interview. I remain behind and intend to spend a wonderful afternoon discussing life with Simon. I have brought my six-pack of Heinecken, and I am sure we both will do our level best to finish the whole thing off in less than an hour. We are joined in our discussion this afternoon by a neighbor named John. John lives in Atlanta but owns a small “condo” on Jackson and Laurel. He, and occasionally his wife, comes down to the city once a month. His children are out of the house now, though his son goes to school at McNeese State and he finds time to visit his son in Lake Charles when he can. John also volunteers at the Jazz Fest (at the drink booths). I really hope that Susan and I can do something like this very soon—buy or rent something small in New Orleans that we can call home while here. If anyone knows of a cheap but safe efficiency apartment for rent, I would like to talk with you.

Simon’s new paintings continue to be “signs” of sayings or commissions to mark special events. His non-commission work goes out the door almost immediately after it’s completed. A couple come in to commission three pieces to help commemorate their lives in New Orleans. They have lived here for three years, but their work is transferring them to Los Angeles. They are not happy with the move, but they know they will come back someday. I believe they will—you can hear the passion for New Orleans in their voices. After they leave, Simon confides in me that his job is “non-stop.” What a wonderful thing in life when you are doing what you love to do on your own terms.

After about an hour, Cece comes back but has been refused her first interview. She thought she had a lead, but it turns out the person didn’t want to participate. She wants to complete three interviews today, and though this might be a bit ambitious, she is determined to get it done. We tell Simon and John goodbye. I know I will see Simon once again before we leave.

Next stop—on a whim, Cece decides to interview “anyone” at Dirty Coast. It’s close to closing time, and we are able to corner Anika into an interview. I know her story too. Anika is originally from Germany, but her sister lived in New Orleans so she decided to come and visit. She arrived in New Orleans a few weeks before the storm. She STAYED during the storm! You can see in her face that the experience for her was not too bad, but that it was “interesting.” Once the city got back on it’s feet in late 2005, Anika returned to Europe. She was back in New Orleans one year later to stay. I do not hear what she said about Nagin, but it wasn’t bad.

We get back in the car and head to my neighborhood, Broadmoor. We’re really on our way to City Park, but I figure we can get there “quicker” going through my neighborhood. Honestly, I love driving through the neighborhood whenever I can. It still is home for me. As we leave the neighborhood and head up Jeff Davis towards City Park, I notice that the car next to me has Jack and Sherry in it—neighbors from across the street in Broadmoor. We roll our windows down and say hello, and it turns out they are heading to the new Dog Park at City Park to walk their beautiful brown lab named “Cooty” (“Mardi Cooty Fiyo—Indian Red, Indian Red”). Cece and I follow them there so we can sit and catch up. Cece gets a chance to interview Jack. Sherry and I catch up on what’s been going on since I last saw them in May. We make plans to do something this week—whether that be a poker game, or a cookout. I volunteer to make Gumbo. Jack and Sherry love my gumbo. Ironically, the last time I made Gumbo for Jack and Sherry was for a poker night on Tuesday, August 25, 2005—the Tuesday before the Storm. We had all just learned about Katrina forming off the eastern coast of Florida—really two tropical disturbances joining up into one very big and ugly storm.

Jack is kind, too, to Nagin during Cece’s interview. Jack thought Nagin was the wrong person in the wrong situation at the wrong time. We had lots of hope for Nagin, but he never fulfilled his potential.

Wow—am I the only person that HATES Nagin so much that I can honestly find no redeeming qualities to his pitiful little self? I guess there is something wrong with me—or perhaps I need some therapy for this deep hatred I have of Nagin!

We all agree that we all must do something together before Cece and I head out of town. I imagine it will indeed be Poker Night on Tuesday. We say our goodbyes and Cece and I drive around City Park.

City Park is beautiful, and it has come back relatively well. I don’t believe the golf course is back online—it doesn’t look like it. But the Museum has been going strong since shortly after the Storm and the grounds look wonderful again. Cece informs me that the young man he met a few nights ago—the one who is traveling by bike across country—spent the night in City Park. He has his own tent and sleeping bag, and he found City Park to be a good venue since it was far enough from the Quarter to be out of the way of potential muggers, homeless people, and curious police officers. Honestly, I admire his frontier attitude with his trip. I am not sure I could spend the night alone in a tent in City Park, but the thought does make me think of trying it out someday when I ride my motorcycle into town.

Cece also informs me that she and “Bike Guy” are going to attend the free dinner at the Hari Krishna temple on Esplanade….

I love my daughter. She reminds me of me so much….

I don’t have a problem with this date, and I’m actually curious about what her experience will be at the Hari Krishna dinner. After a short rest back at the house, we are on our way to our respective dinners—she to the Temple with Bike Guy, and me to Mandina’s by myself.

We get to the Temple and Bike Guy is waiting for her there. I tell Cece that I’ll be back in an hour to pick her up. She has a look on her face that is both smile and smirk. Hard to describe, but it seems that she is both thanking me for letting her do this, and wishing that I would vanish quickly.

Mandina’s is one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans. It seems that I have beaten the late crowd since I find a table relatively easily, and mid-way through dinner the line is outside the door. I am in full anticipation of two things here—a Sazerac and their Trout Meuniere. The waitress informs me that they are out of Trout tonight!!! They can put the Meuniere sauce on their Soft Shell Crabs, but I have my heart set on trout. I settle for the Fried Oysters instead.

The waitress assures me that the oysters are from PJ’s. This is good to know. The helping of oysters is large once I get my plate. The problem is that the oysters are small—smaller than I’m used to seeing. And they taste “bland”—no real salty, muddy taste to them. I am sure I’m imagining things, but it seems that these oysters are a bit immature to be on the table. Still, I save enough to put on a po-boy sandwich tomorrow. The waitress brings me another Sazerac and some of Mandina’s wonderful Bread Pudding. This IS a nice way to end the meal.

On my way back to pick up Cece, I find her and Bike Guy on the corner by the Temple sitting and talking. I can tell she is having a great time. I tell them both I’ll be back later, and I end up driving down the street to Jared’s new house and parking the car. It is a beautiful night, and I feel like walking.

Walking…. In a neighborhood…. At night…. A neighborhood with life….

I could hear distant sounds of music, some rap and some jazz. I could hear WWOZ on the air. Sounds of voices coming from the living rooms. Smells of barbeques that had ended a few hours before. Mardi Gras beads on fences. A light pole with hand-made “Saints” signs with different sayings that seemed to be added with every significant victory in 2009. I had once again died and gone to heaven. I do believe I have done that every day while we’ve been here.

Finally, I go back and pick Cece up. She is ready to go back to the house. I am sure she will see Bike Guy again later this week. I am also sure I will get another chance to walk through a neighborhood with life. And I know I will see something that will bring another smile to my face.

I have no plans for Monday other than grading papers and attending to work issues in the early morning. I do believe, though, I will try to go with Cece on the Street Car to City Park. We have a date at the New Orleans Museum of Art. There’s an original Picasso I want her to see there.

Yeah you right!!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day Eight

It is 12:30 as I start writing this blog. PM. Early afternoon…. Cece and I had ourselves a time last night, starting off at Lucy’s in the CBD and then closing the night down at the Blue Nile on Frenchman.

Bonnie came and went in a whimper—an insignificant version of what she could have been. The rain that began in the early evening was welcome on a warm summer day, but she would later douse Cece and I on Frenchman Street with the typical summer “opening of the heavens” downpour. I didn’t mind being wet from head to toe. It actually felt great.

Saturday was a nice, leisurely day. Cece was in search of interviews, and I had a few ideas. We started off the day with breakfast at Clover Grill. That is Cece’s favorite place in New Orleans—she has a weakness for their waffles. I love the “kay-rack-ters” that work there, but the staff has noticeably become more tame since the Storm. The food, though, is still top notch. Cece makes reference that we are sitting the very table that Brad Pitt sat in during the scene in Benjamin Button. I point out to her that the scene was completed in a set, not at the Clover Grill. It is a shame that they were not able to film at Clover Grill, but I am not sure why that is the case. I am sure Brad loves him some Clover Grill every once in a while. He lives just up the street.

Our first potential interview takes us back to “Road Kill,” a shop owned by my friend John in the French Quarter. John is not in, though, so we decide we will head out to the Musician’s Village to see if we can catch Bob French or George Ingmire. I take the LONG way to the Musician’s Village—north up Elysian Fields to Gentilly, then past Gentilly to Florida Avenue. I wanted to see how much remediation work had been done on this side of the canal since the storm. Not surprisingly we find that very little has been done. We stop to take some pictures of an abandoned NOFD truck and an NOPD cruiser at the apparently abandoned Central Maintenance Garage in the Industrial District of the Upper Ninth Ward. I can’t imagine these vehicles have been here since Katrina, but then again it wouldn’t surprise me. I will upload these pictures to my flickr site later today (www.flickr.com/banzaibill).

We make it to the Musician’s Village, which Cece has never seen. Bob French is not home, but Smokey Johnson is holding court on his front porch. I see one of the neighborhood kay-rack-ters who I know, David, and we begin to have a pleasant chat with him. David owns the “wild house” on Bartholomew Street—a two house lot with drum sets sitting on poles in the front yard, a big cowboy hat in the garage that looks like it came of a Harry Lee mardi gras float, and a crew of mannequins in the front yard, one of which emulates, he says, his current girlfriend. People are always looking at this collection of artifacts n his yard, and David is always happy to talk with them. He agrees to an interview, and Cece begins to ask the questions.

He stayed in his house during the storm, and after three days of living in a house under 10 feet of water he was evacuated to the Super Dome. Once there, he was put on a bus to Houston, where he remained for a long while until his son picked him up. Like many of us, he found his way back into the city in October 2005. He began repairing the damage to his house, and eventually was compensated by Road Home, FEMA an Insurance money. I would have to classify him as one of the lucky one’s when it came to compensation. He has used the money, though, to fully repair his house and the house next door. He fully admits, though, that the best thing to happen to his neighborhood is the Musician’s Village. It has been the catalyst for the rebuilding and repairing of so many other houses in the neighborhood. He is a wonderful and empathetic person with a smile that never leaves his face, and when it comes to answering the question about Nagin, he ponders a bit and says he never says anything bad about anyone. So he has to think a bit about his response, which finally is the only positive thing I can think of myself—Nagin stayed here throughout the storm.

We say goodbye to David, and head back to the Bywater where we walk throughout the neighborhood to take pictures. So many wonderfully unique homes here, and I realize that this is one neighborhood I could really enjoy living in. On the 900 block of Piety I discovered ANOTHER neighborhood bar—Bud Rip’s. This is a classic neighborhood bar, and it’s only four blocks from where we’re staying. I will be going back to visit this bar during the last week of our stay. Within walking distance of Rhonda’s house we have access to a neighborhood grocery, and great coffee shop, wonderful second-hand stores, a neighborhood bar, and a music shop. Piety Street studios is not far away as well. I would have to walk two miles to get to the closest “anything” in my “neighborhood” in Texas….

After resting up in the afternoon, Cece and I head out to hear Rotary Downs play at Lucy’s in the CBD. On the way there, I get a text message from my friend Sherry that she, her husband Jack, JC and Maggie are heading to a new club opening in the CBD. The club is called “12 Bars” and its named in reference to the 12-bar chords in a blues song. I’m able to walk between both events, and I get a chance to say hello to Maggie and JC at 12 Bars, but ultimately Cece and I find ourselves back at Lucy’s.

Lucy’s is not a place I frequent. I would never recommend it to friends. It has a feel of a Tulane fraternity party. In fact, my friends who DO like Lucy’s graduated from Tulane. They’re having their annual street “lu-owe” party, and other than the stage the street is blocked off with a slip-and-slide and a water slide. Beach balls are flying everywhere, and I somehow imagine I’m at a Jimmy Buffett concert. We meet Blake, Patrick and Jamie there. I discover that Jamie worked at McDonough 15 prior to her current teaching gig in the Upper Ninth Ward (Carver Elementary). She knows Gina and Kaya. New Orleans is such a small town.

Rotary Downs is playing a great set, but Cece and I need a break before we head down to Frenchman Street later in the night. We intend to catch up with Blake, Patrick and Jamie at the Blue Nile. Mike Dillon of Garage-A-Tois fame is playing there tonight, and this is sure to be a great show. After heading home and changing clothes, Cece and I meet the crew at Blue Nile. Between parking the car and getting to the club, Bonnie decides to drench us with the “opening of heavens” downpour…. So much for our changed clothes.

What a set!!! Mike Dillon is on vibes and percussion, and he’s tearing the house apart. He’s backed by a drummer and an electric bass player. Solid percussion, and it is incredible. Dillon is bending the music with a wah-wah, and his “last” piece before the first set break lasts nearly one hour!!! I would love to stay for more, but I see that it’s already past 1am and I am sure we need to get home. Cece and I say our goodbyes.

Needless to say, I got up late today.

We’re about to head out for another day of interviews. Simon is on the agenda. After that, there is no plan. Who plans for anything in New Orleans? Just take whatever she gives you. Yeah you right!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day Seven

It takes a certain kind of person to truly live in New Orleans. Each of us are “kay-rack-ters” in every sense of the word. Those who live in an organized, time oriented schedule do not do well here. Those who seek drastic change from the slow, laissez-faire lifestyle of this town will only find frustration. True, there are those who always complain about one thing or another, including our slow pace of life at times. And we all know that “Mayor” (sic) Nagin gave many of us lots to complain about. But we shrug off complainers because we know they wouldn’t live anywhere else—New Orleans gives them the stage to not only complain but become “kay-rack-ters” in the neighborhood and community-wide soundtrack of the city. As one person put it to me yesterday, she wouldn’t feel normal living anywhere else. And I knew what she was talking about. For many of us to live somewhere else, we would be seen by others as “abnormal” Here, we turn things on their sides, upside down. Here, the social “abnormal” is very normal, and we wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

I had designs on not doing any work on Friday, but I quickly found myself working for four hours while at the coffeehouse. Catching up with grading papers was paramount, and it seemed that “work” at the University had slowed down. Fridays at the University are the quietest days of the week, especially in the summer. I let my Administrative Assistant off early so that she could study for a test and gather research on her final paper. I had electronically signed all of my morning’s paperwork. I had begun the process of setting up my adjuncts with their online course accounts. Once the papers were graded and I had answered all my emails, I was pretty much done for the day. I had also consumed four hours of work.

As I traveled back to the house, I intended to park myself in the Quarter and take advantage of at least one day of Tales of the Cocktail. It was nice that this event was “conveniently” taking place during this trip, but as I have reintegrated myself into everyday New Orleans, I found solace in knowing that the event was taking place and I have the opportunity to participate. For some of us, we know this feeling as residents in this geat city. We know there is so much activity taking place in this city, and at times we go home knowing that we can go out at any time and take advantage of it. We fall asleep knowing that there is so much we could do.

Where I currently “stay,” all we are sure of is that tomorrow will be a work day when we get up. There is little going on during any day that goes beyond the boredom of everyday life. Thankfully, I have a wonderfully creative wife and a truly beautiful little boy to spend my time with at home. Between the sounds of WWOZ on the radio, or Susan playing piano, or Devin drawing or playing legos with me, I find that I’ve done a pretty good job of creating a bit of New Orleans in our home. This is what I crave for during the day—and if I weren’t in New Orleans right now I would anticipate with great anxiety the fact that I am going home to my “little” New Orleans and the ones I love every day after work. Its as close as we are going to get to New Orleans for the time being.

I pass on going to Tales of the Cocktail, and choose instead to go to the house and rest.

Cece calls me to inform me it is time for my interview for Humidbeings.com. She’s working on a project with Blake Haney to interview residents about their pre- and post-Katrina experiences. She comes to the house with Michael, her intern coordinator, and Sean, the other intern. They’ve just interviewed the owner of “Island of Salvation” botanica here in the Bywater. They settle into the house and get their equipment ready. As Cece begins to ask her questions, I believe she will hear things she has never heard before.

“When did you evacuate for the storm?” “What were your thoughts during the evacuation?” “What did you do when you first came back to New Orleans?” I tell her the story of how I picked up Kaya Martinez from her Marigny apartment the day before we evacuated because she had no way out of town, and how we then traveled down Royal Street throughthe Quarter and I was amazed at how many people were still on the streets and how many businesses were not boarded up. I told her about how Susan cried as we left our house, knowing that we probably wouldn’t be back. I tell her about the sound of dried mud under my feet echoing for blocks when I get out of my car in October 2005 when I return to clean out the house.

“How do you feel about the oil catastrophe?” “Why should the rest of the country be concerned about what is happening in the Gulf?” Questions that are so familiar to us from a Katrina perspective.

Finally, the last question throws me for a real curve ball. “How do you feel about Ray Nagin?”

The first things out of my mouth are “Mother Fucker!!!” The next thing is “Fuck You You Fucking Fuck!!!” That pretty much summarizes how I feel about Ray Nagin. Everyone laughs—I imagine I won’t be the last person to state these feelings about our former “Mayor” (sic).

Cece and I don’t have any real plans for the day—though we really do have a plan. Only in New Orleans would that make sense. We head out to the Bywater for some lunch and whatever we might experience. She chooses a sandwich from Satsuma. I choose a Roast Beef PoBoy from Frady’s Grocery. I’ve been searching for a great neighborhood grocery since finding out that Verti Marte in the Quarter was damaged by a fire a few weeks ago. I find that Frady’s is going to be my sandwich shop of choice for the rest of the visit. Eclectic like the Bywater, Frady’s has a real neighborhood feel. “Kay-rack-ters” abound inside, both patrons and workers. Smiles and warm feelings are equally bountiful, and I feel right at home here. They make a pretty good Roast Beef poboy too!

Cece and I browse through the local second-hand stores, take pictures of some houses and buildings, and walk our way back to the house. I try to get some rest (I didn’t get any rest like I intended earlier due to Cece’s unexpected interview) and am somewhat successful. By 7pm, we’re ready to head out the door to my friend Alli’s birthday party at the Le Bon Temps Roule on Magazine Street. We stop at a bookstore along the way so that I can pick up two books for Alli—Tom Piazza’s “Why New Orleans Matters” and Dan Baum’s “Nine Lives—Death and Life in New Orleans.” I consider these two very important books about New Orleans today, and I know it will help aid in Alli’s New Orleans knowledge-base. It is the professor in me that motivates this gift.

Alli loves the books—she informs me that she hasn’t read them yet. I buy her a birthday drink—a pint of New Orleans “Brown”, a local beer on tap at the Bon Temps. I have one too, and we all talk about her new job (per se) at the Food Coop. Shortly, we are joined by others. I finally meet “face-to-face” fellow Blogger Adastros and his lovely wife Grace. I am happy about this very much. Patrick is here—a close friend of Alli’s and we talk about their collective “wild night” celebrating the NFC Championship game victory. Suffice it to say that Alli ended that night at the emergency room at Touro with a wound inflicted in her foot by an errant nail on the street. Gina and her boyfriend Greg Peters are there as well. Greg informs me that he is working on projects with Humidbeings.com, and I realize how small this world is, especially in New Orleans. You may remember Greg as the cartoonist with the Gambit.

Two hours pass quickly, and before we know it it’s time for Cece and I to head out to our next adventure. Where, we don’t exactly know, but we have designs on going to Mimi’s for a late-night dance party. It is so grat to be around these friends again—I can’t wait to see them all when I return in late August for the Rising Tide Conference. We say our goodbyes and Cece and I head down towards the Marigny.

Knowing it might be difficult getting Cece “in” to Mimi’s, we veer off course and head down to Frenchman Street. The crowd is thick on the street, and the music from the clubs is alive and wonderful. My ears hear a Brass Band playing on the corner, and sure enough the Young Fellas Brass Band is entertaining a lively and large street crowd on the corner of Frenchman and Chartres. Though Cece and I will continue to make one “lap” on Frenchman, I choose ultimately to settle here and enjoy the Brass Band. Dancing. With others. On the Street. In New Orleans. Yeah You Right!!!

There is something magical about hearing brass bands play live on the streets. It is nearly as magical as being in a second line parade. But Second Line season is over, and this is as close as we’re going to get to a real second-line parade during our visit. My friend Lisa Palumbo is there as well, and she and I share stories of taking our teen daughters out to experience New Orleans culture. I also know that Lisa is bound to be out late tonight, and though I am ambitious, I know I could never keep up with her on her musical journeys. Cece finds herself writing poems for the street poet on Frenchman, and then she meets a young man who is riding his bike across country. He’s originally from Minnesota, and now finds himself in New Orleans. His ultimate destination is Portland, Oregon. He’s 18 years old. I really admire his drive to see the country on his bicycle. I am pretty sure Cece is impressed as well.

Two hours pass on Frenchman Street, and Cece and I decide it’s time to head back to the house. Once again, I find myself in before 2am. Not a late night, and I know I can actually sleep in Saturday morning (though I am sure I will be up by 6am no matter what). This has been a wonderful and magical day in New Orleans. They all have been.

Today, we have no plans other than to try to get some interviews and take some pictures in the Bywater. Tonight, we hope to get down to Lucy’s in the CBD to catch Rotary Downs. It seems that Bonnie is going to whimper out, though her cool rains and winds will be much appreciated later today. I don’t think the rain will keep Cece from seeing Rotary Downs tonight. THAT is a long story in of itself.

Life is good.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day Six

Walking through the Bywater is like walking through a small Havana neighborhood. If the cars weren’t here, it would look exactly like Havana. New Orleans neighborhoods possess the beauty of “neglect and decay.” Some houses are so run down they look beautiful. Some houses are just plain beautiful. Each house is an extension of the occupant’s personality. The Bywater is full of housing gems. Colorful houses, large commercial venues that have be turned into houses, small businesses that occupy former residential homes. Small Shotguns. Small setbacks. Small alleys. Large dogs. Chickens crowing at sunrise. I find these morning walks a wonderful way to start the day. I must take pictures of the neighborhood this weekend.

I knew full well coming to New Orleans in the summer there was always a chance of a tropical front forming in the gulf. This weekend, New Orleans and the greater Louisiana coast will be host to Tropical Storm Bonnie. She may make landfall sometime Sunday afternoon. I don’t believe it will get any stronger than a Cat 1 hurricane, so we’re standing pat. I just need to look in Rhonda’s yard to see what needs to be tied down for the storm. But that pretty much is the “icing” on the cake for this long visit back home. Not only are we being treated to all the delights the city can present—we are also going to experience our first Tropical Storm since leaving for Katrina. The last “Cat 1” we rode out was Cindy in July 2005. Cece and David were spending the week with us then as well. The winds were modestly strong (75mph), the rain was relatively light for a Hurricane, but the damage was significant for a storm this “small.” To a certain extent it was a dress rehearsal for Katrina. Cindy made a direct hit on New Orleans, and she tore up trees and electrical lines like I had not seen before. A transformer blew out in our neighborhood causing a loud explosion sound just down the block that brought Cece out of her room and into our bedroom. She spent the night with Susan and I (I believe I ended up on the couch). New Orleans would be dealing with the damage and the electricity outages for weeks to come. By the time we had cleaned up after Cindy, Katrina came knocking on our door.

I looked up Hurricane Bonnie this morning and discovered that she last wreaked havoc in North Carolina in 1998. She was a Cat 3 storm, causing over $1 billion in damage to the North Carolina coast. I hope THIS Bonnie remains a smaller, insignificant version of it’s former self. But I am thinking about how much “oil” will find its way to the streets of New Orleans as the Storm picks it up in the gulf. Right now, the track of the storm puts it right over the oil leak! If there is a god, she is a cruel bitch to treat us this way.

I spent a good day at work yesterday. I was able to sit down for more than two hours and answer messages, deal with student issues, and make certain decisions about course offerings. I also graded papers, though I am still behind in that area. Once I finished my morning work, I headed home to prepare for my show on WWOZ.

I used to spend hours prepping for my shows. I found myself falling into the same pattern this afternoon. I use the current Jazz charts to get an idea of what is popular for the week. I choose from that list those artists I know and whose work I really enjoy listening to. Then, assuming that they won’t be at the station, I begin to actually listen to those recordings and make a decision on what to play. I choose 10 contemporary cuts, and then download them to my computer. That completes my “contemporary” jazz set. Next, I select some New Orleans musicians’ music to play. Again, about 10 albums should do the trick. If I have time (and I didn’t have time today), I will take a look at the World Jazz charts and find another 10 cuts to listen to and record. I don’t spend much time with the Classic Jazz cuts because I will bring in all of my best cds to the station and select from them once in the studio.

I spend the next three hours prepping for my show….

And I am loving it….

I’m fully prepared for the show, but I still get in about 30 minutes early to see what current cds ARE on the shelves at WWOZ. It also gives me a chance to catch up with old friends at the station. Scott is there, just back from a well deserved vacation. Mr. David Torkanowsky is hosting his “Blues Bash” show—one of the best shows on OZ. I choose to start the show with John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” It will give me 8 minutes to settle into my first set. Cece and I work on how she will promote her new project on the air—she needs volunteers to be interviewed about their pre- and post-Katrina experiences. Humidbeings.com is going to use the interviews (stories, pictures, and videotape) as part of their 5 year Katrina anniversary collection. Cece and I settle on a focus, and we are ready to go.

It doesn’t take long for a three hour show—time passes very quickly. I get phone calls from friends who used to listen to the show. I get one in particular call, though, that really makes me feel great. My friend P. J. calls in from Baghdad. He’s a true New Orleanian who is currently stationed there with the Army. It is great to hear his voice. They are 8 hours ahead of us, so he’s listening in at 1am his time. We formed a New Orleans bond in Killeen, and he came over to the house often to enjoy the Saints march to the Super Bowl. He was deployed in January 2010, but I could see the big smile on his face when the Saints won the Super Bowl. I bet he was “second-lining” with all of us in his barracks that day!

I get a call from Ms. Dana Abbot who wants me to announce that her band (the Something Something's) is playing at BJ’s Lounge in the Bywater starting at 10pm. I would later go and hear the gig since it was only 6 blocks down the street from where Cece and I are staying. Sandy calls from Houston. Keith calls in, stating how much he misses hearing Cece’s voice on the air. He also says I helped shape his love and appreciation for jazz music. Tarik Hassan comes in to promote his new self-titled CD. He will release it on Sunday at Snug Harbor. It sounds good and I hope to get over there on Sunday to see the show. Damn storm might get in the way of that, though.

Cece does a very good job announcing her project and her need for volunteers. One of her co-workers calls Cece to say they’ve taken a few calls after Cece’s announcement. I can see Cece is happy to hear that her announcement worked.

Once the show is done, we head out to the Quarter for a walk and some food. I’m still a bit keyed up after the show and I find walking is a great way to come down. Summer Thursdays in the Quarter are slow, so we walk the streets as if we own them. I remind Cece of our times coming down to the Quarter on Christmas Day, to find the streets all to ourselves just like this. I know New Orleans needs the tourist dollars to survive, but I do enjoy these times when the city is all ours. We finally settle in to Fiorella’s for dinner. I need me some Fiorella’s fried chicken. Towards the end of the meal, I show the waiter my picture of the neon Fiorella’s sign that is in our house. He takes the picture back to show his manager. They are amazed that I have the sign. Still, they aren’t asking for it back.

After dinner, Cece and I go to Frenchman Street to hear some music. Traffic here is starting to look like a weekend, and weekends do start early here in New Orleans. After about an hour, we head back to the house. Cece turns in for the night, but I end up going to hear Dana Abbott at her BJ’s Lounge gig.

BJ’s Lounge is the “home” of Little Freddie King. They just threw his 70th birthday party a few weeks ago. You have to ring the doorbell to get in, but that’s not atypical for small neighborhood bars in other cities. Dana’s band consists of four members, including herself, and plays a mix of rock/folk covers and original material. She has a great voice—its deep and heavy. The bar is moderately busy, making it a very comfortable place to hear music. The man next to me looks like Santa Claus, with one tooth missing. He is just as jovial as Santa, and he informs me that he comes to New Orleans often. His name is Art, and it looks like he’s been in BJ’s for a few hours. The music and the company entices him to buy a round for the bar! I thank him for his great generosity, and I buy him a drink as well. Of the many things I miss about New Orleans, I miss these truly unique neighborhood moments. We don’t have a bar in my neighborhood in Harker Heights. We don’t have a neighborhood grocery store, nor do we have a neighborhood book store. We really don’t have a neighborhood in the sense I am most familiar with. People just live there. Suburbs miss out on so much there is to offer in a real neighborhood. Unfortunately, most of America lives in suburbs….

After one set, I head back to the house. I’m reminded that tomorrow will be Friday in New Orleans—with a storm knocking on the door. Though I have lots of work to catch up with, I might just take the day off and enjoy the bounty of the city. It is, after all, Friday in New Orleans.

Yeah You Right!!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day Five

You can cut the humidity with a knife right now in New Orleans. It is humid 24 hours a day. The air is heavy and hot. And I love it!

I am one of those strange folks who adjusted to Southern humidity pretty easily. I never minded it. New Orleans offers enough opportunities to get out of the humidity—the businesses and restaurants compete with each other it seems to see which is “colder” in the summer. But whether I’m on an early morning walk to Satsuma or a late night stroll down Frenchman, I can count on the heavy humidity. It truly is a sign that I am home.

After five days with my daughter, I fully realize how similar we are. She has a dry, emotionless expression when she talks in sarcastic tones. She hides her sarcasm well. She also has a difficult time expressing herself emotionally. It seems like a “task” to show her emotions, even small ones, to me. Yet, when it comes to interacting with people, she’s a charmer. She speaks well, she has a vibrant smile, and she pays relative attention to conversations. She enjoys walks—alone. She appreciates the arts, and participates in them as much as she can. She likes being around people, but she also equally likes being by herself. I expect to learn more about her over the next week, but I pretty much already know her—she is me. And I am her.

My day at UNO was once again rewarding. They are going through so many cuts right now, and I heard that the University may lay-off even more faculty and staff before September 1. There is a cloud of depression in the Sociology Department. These are dark days for higher education in New Orleans and in Louisiana. But the fact that I can hire my former students as adjuncts does make an opportunity for some happiness within the Department. I always enjoyed the sense of family within the Department. They provided for me a great job while I was in New Orleans. I will always be grateful to them for this.

I have hired two of my former students to be adjuncts for me. I cannot tell you how rewarding this is for me. They are excellent students and scholars, and I am so very proud of them. Elise was my graduate student—she helped me through Statistics at UNO. In this very small world we live in here in New Orleans, her sister Henna was my next door neighbor as well. I never knew this until I saw her across the street from our house in Broadmoor visiting her sister. We both were very surprised. She is going to help me with the Environmental Sociology course. With the oil catastrophe so current and close, I can anticipate her using many contemporary sources as examples in the course.

The other student I hired was Ashley. She took one of my classes during her first year at UNO. I believe it was 2004. She must have been impressed with all of us in UNO Sociology because she just graduated with her Master’s in Sociology. She was one of my best students. She not only got all her work done, but she wrote with a strong critical voice. I enjoyed reading her writings. I am very happy that she not only received her Master’s but also that she will be teaching for me. I am also very proud of her. She has achieved so much over the past few years.

Once I complete my work at UNO, I get a call from Cece to pick her up. It seems that Zack has taken all the photo equipment with him, and the interviews they all plan to start must wait one more day. As I travel back through the CBD, I see Anderson Cooper strolling down Camp Street at a brisk pace. Cece doesn’t believe that I’ve seen Anderson, so I turn around and we both see him as he saunters past Poydras Street. He must be here covering the oil catastrophe. I haven’t been watching the news at all since leaving Killeen on Saturday, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was here for work and not pleasure. He is a great advocate of the Gulf Coast—he must be anguishing as much as all of us about this oil spill.

Today, I get to treat Cece to a Hansen’s Snowball. Over all the years, she has never had one. I’m not sure where she’s had her snowballs before, but I am SURE she will never experience one like this ever again. I love Hansen’s—they are originals. And once you’ve had one of their Snowballs, you won’t look at “snow-cones” the same again. I recommend the Hot Rod. Cece orders hers with a chocolate scoop and with cherry syrup. I order my usual Hot Rod with vanilla and covered in Nectar. Nothing better to cut the heat and humidity of New Orleans. The line is long, the air is hot, but we will all gladly wait for our Hansen’s—the reward is great in the end. Cece loves her Hot Rod, and I know we’ll be back there at least one more time before the end of our trip.

Our next venture is to Dirty Coast t-shirts on Magazine. I’ve got way too many t-shirts, as my wife Susan can attest to. In fact, I’m in the process of sending many to Goodwill. But I know there are at least “two” that I need from Dirty Coast. I’m also looking for some shirts for Devin as he starts 1st Grade in a few weeks. He’s gotta represent! It’s nice to see Patrick at the store, and we all agree on meeting up at Lucy’s in the CBD this Saturday night to see Rotary Downs. I find the t-shirts I’m looking for—a new WWOZ t-shirt, and the anti-BP t-shirt. Cece chooses these as well, but also picks up the great “Beauty of Entropy” shirt. This is one of Caitlin and Susan’s favorites too. With these new purchases, we go exploring on this end of Magazine street for the rest of the afternoon. Cece loves the boutiques, and I love the St. Joseph Bar, but St. Joe’s isn’t open, so I find myself going into the toy store in search of Legos!

This is perhaps our most casual afternoon of this trip. We have settled into a routine during the day. Work, and then leisurely walks. We usually have “plans” for the evening, but they aren’t written in stone. Today would be no different—our initial plans call for a night at the Candlelight Lounge in the Treme, but I am still hesitant to take Cece out into the late night (the show doesn’t start until 10), so when I get a call from my friend Cindy that she’s playing at a blues club in Metairie, I convince Cece that we should go. But this ultimately turns into a bust, and we head back to Frenchman Street. Still early, we are able to catch a latin-jazz band at Maison, and we stay for the funk band that follows it. I get an email from Lynn Drury about her show at the Bayou Blues Bar on Jefferson Davis, and Cece and I again wander to see music outside of the Quarter and Frenchman.

Lynn Drury is one of the most talented singer-songwriters in the country. She is also the most underappreciated. Perhaps it’s because she performs a “folk-country” type of music in a city known for Jazz, Funk and R&B. I’ve always thought she would be better musically suited in a city like Austin, Nashville, or Memphis. But I have a hunch that New Orleans has as strong of an influence on her identity as it does for many of us, and the thought of leaving is just out of the question. Still, she confides that she may return to Italy to tour with her friends there, and I cannot honestly see why she doesn’t go ahead and do that. I still hope someone will “discover” her and turn her into the recording star she deserves to be. It is so sad to know that her talent is being missed by so many people.

It’s a work night, so we get home at a reasonable hour. I am enjoying these days with Cece and New Orleans. I am happy to be home.

Our agenda for today includes sneaking in at Tales of the Cocktail, and perhaps a late-night burlesque show at the Big Top. We shall see. Oh, and I’ll be on the air at WWOZ from 4-7 with Jazz from the French Market! It’s all good!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day Four

Potholes—I am reminded daily of the “natural” speed bumps that make up large parts of the ride to UNO on Elysian Fields Avenue. I think they’ve gotten worse—they score nearly every block of my ride to the UNO campus. Large ones, shallow ones, bumps in the road, deep cracks, and every other shape and divet you can imagine. My poor car will need a new suspension system by the time I get home in two weeks. Some things never change here in New Orleans.

I had another wonderful day at UNO today. I got to see Vern Baxter and David Allen—two former colleagues who have helped me so much while I was at the University prior to the Storm. It was good to see Deliliah, our Administrative Assistant, is still there. Vern asked me about my new job, which isn’t so new anymore given that I’ve been an “administrator” for over two years. I find myself saying the same thing many times to folks I haven’t seen in years—that Susan and I have landed on our feet in Killeen. We are fortunate to have found a job so quickly after the storm that has kept us in Texas. On the other hand, I tell them, we come back home often, at least 4 times a year, and our hearts are still in New Orleans. Many say we’ll be back home to stay someday, but I’m a realist and I understand the job probably just isn’t going to be here for me to up and leave Killeen. We’re in Killeen for the long run, I hear myself telling people these days, but we’ll be here when we retire in 12 years.

I spend much of this day walking through our University’s Blackboard online course delivery system with a recent Graduate Student, Michelle, who I’ve hired to teach for me online in the Fall Semester. She is eager to try teaching online, and she comes to me with high recommendations. I know she is going to do fine for me and our students, and I need to get her account setup by the end of this week so she can begin setting her course up.

At some point, Michelle asks me about my research, and this turns into both of us discussing our Katrina experiences. She is a New Orleanian and had to evacuate all the way to Pennsylvania with her husband and child. They eventually found their way back to New Orleans, in large part due to the fact she was living in her family’s house near Mid-City that was fully paid for. Low housing costs brought her back, but she strongly asserted that the culture of the city, as well as strong and long family ties, brought her back. She knows all the “bad” that New Orleans has to offer, but she also realizes the “good” offsets the bad, at least for the time-being. The one thing that may take her and her family away will be if she pursues her Ph.D. in Sociology. With no programs available any longer in the City, the closest program is in Baton Rouge. I really hope this online teaching gig works for her—it might be just enough to keep her in New Orleans for a while.

Once I finish my afternoon at UNO, I go to visit my former graduate student Elise. She, too, will be teaching for me online this Fall, but she and I turn our “orientation” into a great welcome-home lunch—lunch over beer—lunch IS beer! We meet at the Mid-City Yacht Club and discuss her course syllabus. Our beer of choice is the new Abita SOS which had just hit the shelves and bars of New Orleans that day. The SOS beer is dedicated to Saving Our Shores, and a large part of the proceeds of every sale go to Coastal Cleanup. For me, there is no better choice of beer on this trip that this one.

The bartender at the Mid-City Yacht Club, Nancy, looks like she’s really the manager, and she tells me about her work as a freelance reporter working the BP oil spill story. I take her number and email, and promise her that if I hear of any good leads while I’m here I will direct the calls to her. She already had one story that morning—that the boats skimming the water right now are able to “agitate” the water so that the oil rises to the surface. This makes it easier to skim the oil off the top. Unfortunately, they’ve been told not to use this strategy by the Coast Guard. No reason was given why to stop. Nancy hopes to followup on this story later in the week. I hope she can discover a bit more about this.

Elise’s and my discussion of the syllabus quickly falls to the wayside as we discuss all the events that have happened to us years after the Storm. It is so ironic how I am still engaged in conversations about this nearly 5 years after the storm. Then again, I haven’t seen some friends like Elise since that time. The Storm interrupted her journey to the Ph.D. program at UCDavis she had just been accepted to in the Fall 2005. She decided to hold off for a year and “work” at UNO to help out. She also needed to help begin the rebuilding on the house she and her boyfriend own in Mid-City. After one year, though, she did make it out to UCDavis (my undergraduate alma mater) where she completed her coursework on time and is now back home working on her dissertation on Culture. She and her boyfriend Justin are JUST NOW moving out of their small backyard apartment into their main house. The rebuilding and repairs are complete “enough” for them to return back into the house. I may see if Elise wants to rent out her small apartment to Susan and I so that we have a more “permanent” place to stay whenever we come back home.

Cece calls me while Elise and I are meeting to let me know that her day is once again done, though a bit later than on Monday. Instead of 12 noon, they are now out at 2pm. Her intern coordinator, though, can drive her to a spot near me. I choose the Flying Burrito on Carrolton, and I will catch up with Cece there. I say my goodbye’s to Elise, but I will meet up with her again to go over a “real” Blackboard orientation with another of my former students at UNO on Wednesday morning.

Cece and have lunch at the Flying Burrito, and then we head down to Magazine Street to do a bit of window shopping. Magazine Street is probably my “second” favorite shopping area in New Orleans. The problem with Magazine Street is it is so spread out. Not a bad problem, but it isn’t the most walking friendly place to shop. We decide to descend down on the blocks between Napoleon and Louisiana. I’ve wanted to visit Fleurty Girl’s shop, and Cece wants to visit Buffalo Exchange. I pick up one item at Fleurty Girl that I KNOW I must have for football season—a Saints Prayer Candle. I will light it up every game-day—my new superstition for this year. I hope it works!

After Magazine Street, we hop in the car and head back to the Quarter to see my friend and hero Mr. John Sinclair give a reading from his new book about Sun Ra at the Louisiana Music Factory. True to form, I do see friends and meet some new ones at this event. I finally meet Stephanie from my Facebook friends for the first time face-to-face. We discuss music and New Orleans, evacuations and mutual friends. It is nice to finally put a face to my friend, and I am sure we will meet up again during this visit. Stephanie introduces me to her friend, Joe Crachiola. He’s a local photographer who also has connections with John Sinclair from the Detroit days. I’ve seen his work—he has photographed another one of my Facebook friends, the beautiful NOLA Girl. Joe also informs me that he plays a bit of saxophone and will be sitting in with the Treme Brass Band at the Candlelight Lounge on Wednesday night. I fully intend on seeing him there—I need me a dose of Uncle Lionel and the Treme Brass Band. I also want to introduce Cece to the greatest historically black musical community in the world.

I see other friends at the event—Hild and Tom Morgan, who has just published a great collection of photographs of New Orleans Jazz artists but finds himself in a major conflict with Bob about one particular photo and whether it can be used in the book. I am not going to get in the middle of this conflict, but I did promise Tom I would try to talk to Bob while I’m here to see what I can do to mediate. I am aware that another effort had taken place a few weeks ago—this fell apart, though, and I must really think of a way to work this out. I also see John’s daughter, Celia, who gives me a nice warm hug. She’s doing well with her graphic design work, and I know she will continue to thrive in that area.

I save my special hugs for John. I introduce him to Cece, who he remembers as a little girl of 6 or 7 coming in with me at WWOZ. He is amazed at how much she has grown up. I love the smile on his face as he talks with her. I first met John at WWOZ in 2001 when I hosted my first show Sunday mornings from 5am to 8:30am. John had the classic Blues show that ran from midnight to 5am earlier in the morning. As with all the “giants” who worked at WWOZ, I was initially intimidated by his presence. His knowledge of music was deep, and his work as an activist and promoter I admired dearly. As the years went by of meeting in the early mornings, we forged a bit of a bond in conversation and in addressing issues we mutually cared deeply about—especially political issues. It was those special Sunday mornings between 4:15am and 5am that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

John began reading from his book, first with a selection written by Rick Steiger entitled “Arkestra in Residence,” a lively tale of Sun Ra’s concert in Detroit in late 1980. He then chose a selection by Wayne Kramer entitled “My Night as a Tone Scientist,” an truly passionate rememberance of a night sitting in with the Arkestra while performing in Los Angeles in 2006. Finally, John ended with his own piece entitled “Sun Ra Memories” in which John relates his varied experiences with Sun Ra and the Arkestra. I found myself smiling throughout each reading, nodding my head to familiar names, imagining myself in those places, hearing the “art” that was and still is Sun Ra. I could listen to the stories all night long. The end of the reading came much too quick.

Though only 7:30, I can feel in my bones that I am done for the day. Cece and I head back to the Bywater and though I have “designs” on going to Brocatta’s once I clean myself up, I find that as I lay down to rest my legs on the bed the pillow beckons to me. I end up falling asleep by 9pm.

My plans for Wednesday include another trip to UNO and then the Treme Brass Band this evening. If Cece gets out of work early again today, then we are heading to Hansen’s for her first Snowball there. Yeah you right!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day Three

I am still amazed as I drive to UNO how many homes remain abandoned nearly 5 years after the storm. From Lakeview to Gentilly, you can still see the signs that many have not returned, for one reason or another. There is still so much work that needs to be done, and the oil spill only adds to it. As much as I am enjoying my time here with Cece and friends, Katrina still haunts my visits….

Cece began her internship on Monday with Blake Haney (of Dirty Coast t-shirts and the gallery Canary on Julia Street). As I drop her off at Canary, I get a chance to visit with two of my most favorite people in the whole world—Blake Haney and Zack Smith. Zack is a great photographer—he recently organized a show at Canary that showcased some of his work. He inspires me to make better photos. Blake is just a superhuman entrepreneur. Everything he touches turns to gold. Blake inspires me more than he realizes. I admire how he can do so many things well and still be a “normal” (in a New Orleans way) and wonderful person.

Cece is very excited about this opportunity, and apparently her first tasks include interviewing New Orleanians about their post-Katrina experiences in rebuilding their lives and the city. Blake intends to put these interviews up on the web as part of his Five-Year Katrina Anniversary rememberance. I am looking forward to being interviewed for this by Cece. I am sure she has heard it all before, of how we basically landed on our feet once I got the job in Texas. No doubt—Killeen has been good to us, and I have seen my responsibilities grow up there. I don’t think I would be a Dean if I had stayed at UNO after the storm. Hell, I probably would be looking for a job again this year if I stayed at UNO. But our hearts are still in New Orleans, and it amazes me when I tell people that basically we’ve been coming home every three or four months since the storm. There is no other place I want to be. I just “work” in Killeen.

I spent much of the day “working.” I am trying to work at least 4 hours a day from the internet. I can’t fall behind with work, and I find that I can keep up with it from the computer. I found myself answering email, phone calls, and grading papers from the convenience of various coffee shops in town.

This “work” reminded me of the last time I really did this—during the Fall Semester 2005 at UNO. UNO was the only university still holding classes after the storm. They were all online. I ended up teaching an Intro to Sociology course with 250 students in it—all ONLINE. I had taught online before, but THIS course really tested my organization and online course delivery skills. During that time, I would find myself like I did today at Café Envie in the Quarter downloading papers and grading them. Managing a course of over 200 students, no matter how the course is delivered, is no easy task. But a good cup of coffee and the sounds of New Orleans street-life does help.

Cece got out of work early on Monday—a rather “normal” phenomenon here in New Orleans. We work when we need to, and stop when we’re done. There is no such thing as clock-time in New Orleans. That is what frustrates outsiders the most. For some outsiders, it is so confusing that they end up leaving the city or never coming back. To a certain extent, that’s ok. New Orleans takes a certain kind of unique person to live here.

We ended up back in the Quarter. There is so much to do and catch up with there. We started to do the things that were so much of how we spent summers in New Orleans before. Walk down the Moonwalk. Take the elevator to the top of the W Hotel. Gaze at the city from the wide great window in the W Lobby. Avoid getting drenched by the afternoon rain. Give directions to tourists. Enjoy being truly ourselves.

I eventually find myself at Louisiana Music Factory. Cece goes down the street to Beckham Books. I am looking for a few things, of which I find two—Trombone Shorty’s new recording “Backatown,” and Stanton Moore’s “Groove Alchemy.” I’ll be spinning these later this week on WWOZ. I also pick up the documentary “Fauberg Treme” which I’ve heard so much about. I can’t find Christian Scott’s new album, but I’ll keep looking. Cece enjoys browsing through Beckham Books—she’s collecting old books now. She is the smart one in the family—much smarter than me. Only us nerds love to read and collect books these days. I find a book about Jewish Pirates in the Caribbean and I just might get it later to give to my son David who has now joined the Navy.

Today seems once again very normal. We are merely ambling through the Quarter—not as tourists but as residents. I tell Cece about the various architectural styles throughout the Quarter and how they reflect the various changes in colonial governments, recoveries from fires, and rebuilding after years of neglect and decay. I am still struck at how “odd” the houses on Barracks Street between Royal and Bourbon look when compared to the rest of the block. They are classic bungalow houses and though they are very beautiful they are uniquely out of place in a block anchored by old Spanish Style buildings.

After some rest back home, we begin our journey into the night to see some friends. First on the agenda is Mr. Bob French. He’s playing tonight at Irvin Mayfield’s club in the Royal Sonesta Hotel. His band tonight includes the excellent trumpeter Mario Abney. One of my favorite jazz pianists, Mr. Fred Saunders, is also part of the band. I freely admit—I love Bob like my father. I know his best and worst attributes, and though many people talk about his, I still love him as my father. He is floored by how much Cece has grown up. Though Susan and I visit the city every three or four months, Cece rarely comes with us. Her teen social and school schedule is such that it is difficult to bring her along on our trips. The last time I was able to spend a good few days with Cece in New Orleans was late December 2008. We were able to see Bob then during his Friday show at WWOZ (which he no longer hosts). I am sure Bob does not remember seeing Cece then.

Between sets, Cece gets a chance to spend some time with Bob. She’s hoping to interview him for her project as well. I tell Bob that I will cook him dinner some time while I’m in town. I believe he’ll take me up on this, or perhaps we’ll all go out for breakfast at Lil Dizzy’s later. I know I’ll see him again on this visit, and we let Bob get back to the bandstand.

Our next stop is a few blocks down the Quarter to see Lynn Drury perform at the Kerry Irish Pub (on Decatur Street). Lynn hasn’t started yet (she’s a bit “late”), so we get to see her perform one set as well. Lynn is one of my dearest friends in this city, and she too is amazed how much Cece has grown up. Lynn has not seen Cece since before the storm—Cece was 10 years old then. Five years makes a significant difference in both looks and maturity, and I am proud of how mature Cece has become. Lynn is working on a new album right now and the new cuts she performs sound great. Cece is taking lots of pictures of this performance, and she gets Lynn to easily agree to be part of Cece’s project as well. Lynn is living in the Marigny these days, not too far from where Cece and I are staying. I will catch up with her again during this trip too. It’s going to be nice to visit with everyone again.

We get back home before midnight—not a bad Monday night in New Orleans. My plans for Tuesday include another day at UNO to interview some of my former students to be online adjuncts for us at TAMU-CT. I will grade more papers too at a coffee shop of my choice. And there’s one more friend to visit with today—Mr. John Sinclair is in town, and he’ll be doing a reading from his new book about Sun Ra at the Louisiana Music Factory at 6pm tonight. I am sure I will also see many friends at this event. I can hardly wait for the smiles and hugs.