Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Brand New Blog

So I've been doing this blog for one month short of two years (my log says that this entry makes 415 posts). Most of the folks reading it have been reading it for the whole time and while I'm not inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth (and it is really impossible for me to express how much I appreciate your interest) it does make me wonder about the state of some people's sanity.

Be that as it may, I've been having a hard time figuring out what to do with these blog entries since it so quickly morphed into a sort of journal of my travels (physical, spiritual, and emotional) post-Katrina. One of the reasons that the blog has moved to a less frequent trend of posting is that despite my work to write more and more I've had the desire to publish less and less... I've been stuck in some sort of imaginary self-imposed theme.

SO... this morning I came up with a solution... When in doubt... START OVER!

And that's what I've done. You'll find the newest posting at Quicksilver Amusements and that's where I intend to post most of my stuff from now on (at least for the time being).

I'll be keeping SpeakLo up and running, and the archive will remain here for anyone who would like to go back and read about some of my experiences and perspectives on the last two years of chaos that started when I posted my first comment on July 29, 2005.

Thanks for reading... please join me in the next gallery.

Ladies and Gentlemen... Elvis has left the building!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Hold On To Your Life

I am not generally inclined to find worldly wisdom from Madonna, but this message from the synchronicity of iTunes was particularly interesting and helpful on this Monday morning as I begin my second week in California.

I am starting this week with my standard reaction to spending an evening watching the Tony awards. As usual, my experience of the program was a sort of call to action for my subconscious. I long for greater creativity, clarity and action. I long for a fuller experience of really being alive. I long for meaning and metaphor. I long for hope and the possibility of greatness… And I feel, not all the time but often, like time is running out.

Then the concluding note of my synchronistic hat-trick came when I started the browser on my computer and got this picture/story from Storypeople, and I take great comfort in the fact that I really do believe that there is indeed enough time for “the important things” in my life.

So… on this sunny Monday on the West Coast I sit down at this desk to recommit myself to those things that I care about. It's time to, once again... hold on to my life. How this plays out with the other half of that coin - the perspective of Jesus that if you lose your life you will find it - is something that I am wrestling with at the moment. My hunch is that it has something to do with the kind of of yin-yang balance that seems to be the key to almost everything.

Perhaps it isn't possible to actually hold on to your life unless you hold it lightly.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Welcome to Hurricane Season

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem... and in this case the safety of New Orleans. It's that time of year again. Last year we were extremely fortunate and although the National Hurricane Center had predicted (as they have this year) an exceptionally active year of storms, there were actually very few and none came barreling toward the Gulf Coast to attack The Crescent City levee system which is still operating on one leg and teetering like a drunk on Bourbon Street.

Here we are again almost to the turning point of the year, heading into six months of hot sun and hurricanes, and as my storypeople graphic above relates, the tree must come down now... it's time to get to work. Last Sunday the christian church celebrated Pentecost, that moment when the mantel of power and the obligation of service was transferred from the heavens and landed upon the earth. The day when the responsibility for doing something in the world was laid squarely at the feet of us human beings. But the responsibility was accompanied by power.. audible, visible, existential power. WE... ordinary folks... could do the work of God.

Well... there's still some pretty big work out there to be done. I guess we all better get to it.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Leaving The Land of Maybe...

Tomorrow I leave again for California.

I've been five weeks in The Sliver By The River trying to figure out if there's a There here and, more specifically, if I can really live here again; live here like a resident, not a visitor and a tourist. Unfortunately, these last several weeks have not really answered the question with the resounding yes that I had hoped to find, but to my joy the answer is also not no.

In New Orleans right now the answer to just about every question pertaining to quality of life, effectiveness, purpose, and future is a resounding maybe accompanied by a perpetual eventually, an ever present hopefully. There is an extremely frustrating tentativeness to everything and everyone. Even the true die hards say they're sticking it out come hell and high water while they look over their shoulder, check the weather channel and ponder their escape plans. My favorite columnist anywhere, Chris Rose, recently returned from a brief mental health vacation away and offered his version of what I call a Declaration of Faithfulness to New Orleans. My friend Mary told me that she was very glad to see him back because "... if he goes, I'm right behind him."

It seems to me though that there is an existential realism in this characteristic. As I learned as a kid (and as it was reiterated to me in seminary) nobody knows the time they are alloted on the planet, the things they will be able to accomplish, or the places they will eventually go. We like to pretend that we have everything under control and most of us live our lives creating little systems for reinforcing our personal sense of security and permanence. The problem is that it's all a lie. Nothing is solid... NOTHING. All things are tenuous and very little is known. In New Orleans people know that better than most and I think it stands us in good stead.

So... this time tomorrow (the first day of hurricane season coincidentally) I'll be packing up some of my stuff and heading for the plane, but I'll be doing it with a light heart because the one thing I was able to figure out about New Orleans (and me) on this trip is that I can't help it, it doesn't matter, I am permanently HOME in New Orleans. I now have a place in which to live here again and this time I won't stay away so long. I'll be back... probably soon... maybe... hopefully...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

There Is No Fear In Love

On Meeting the Less Evolved on an Otherwise Lovely Evening...

I have been in war zones, crime zones, terror zones and hurricanes.

I have been fired at by contras in Nicaragua and stood on the border of Honduras unarmed and, mostly, unafraid.

I have hung from rock ledges and muddy crags by nothing more than my fingernails.

I have faced mile 25 with blood slurping in my shoe.

I have sat down in the middle of the road while people threatened to run over me and policemen tried to make me uncomfortable.

I have awakened to paramedics on the highway after doing unconscious acrobatics in my car.

I have faced down criminals in the ghettos of Sao Paulo, the back alleys of Calcutta, the teeming markets of Peru, and the busy streets of London.

I have walked the heart of Upper Manhattan at two in the morning, and faced down three women who thought, at some point or another, that I was the devil incarnate.

I have raised a little girl into a wondrous woman.

I have walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, alone and with my friends.

I am facing the fact that I will not live forever and I am doing it with unanticipated panache.

I have been in jail, in court, in church, and in love… and

I am NOT afraid of you.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I'm Walkin' Here...

One of the things that I love about cities, perhaps the thing I love MOST about cities (most cities at least) is the way that it is not only possible, but desirable to walk through them. This attitude helps me a lot, since I have epilepsy and from time to time I am reduced to walking and/or public transportation, and don't even get me started on the abysmal state of public transportation in this country. Suffice to say... "I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!" Right now it is also the perfect time for this activity in New Orleans for, as strange as it may seem, it is actually possible for it to be pretty chilly in NOLA in the winter, and in the dog days of summer, well... 85 degrees at 6:30 am does not exactly tempt one to strolling.

But in the springtime... it's sublime. During the height of the afternoon it can still get pretty warm, and this afternoon I was walking from one side of town to the other as I sought out several people for work meetings (the first meetings in my montth long visitation... but that's another blog). In the morning I walk for fifteen minutes to half an hour to get to my coffee spot (depending on whether I go to the French Bakery or the place with coffee and chicory) and it's not only a great little bit of exercise (with a similar return trip as well) but it's the perfect precursor to my morning writing ritual. It also leads me, from time to time, to observe, and reflect upon, the state of the city.

Tonight, after my meetings, the lovely, balmy night air led me through the Quarter to catch part of this years' New Orleans Wine and Food Expo in search of a friend from California's Chateau Felice winery and then on to the Ogden museum for the first time since I got back, to hear John "Papa" Gros wail away on the piano, playing some of my all time favorite tunes, while I wandered around the museum and looked at the new exhibitions. He sang a song (sung by Colin James in this version) that I had never heard before, but which describes exactly how I'm feeling tonight. "I live the life I love and love the life I live."

The evening was capped with the delightful serendipity of a kiss offered by a very lovely young lady I had never met before who simply stopped outside the museum and said "I have to give this gentleman a kiss" before planting one on me and then telling me how much she enjoyed watching me enjoy the music. Over a year ago I wrote about my hero Uncle Lionel, from the Treme Brass Band, who is always the life of the party and receives the attention of all the lovely young women. In that post I made the comment that I want to be Uncle Lionel when I grow up. Uncle Lionel and I also share the affection for, and habit of, walking everywhere. I feel like tonight was my initiation into Uncle Lionelism, and I gotta say that I like the kissing better than the walking.

Hopefully this trend will continue, because...

I love the life I live!

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Tale of One City

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. There is a great divide in The Big Easy; one town with two (at least two) realities. In the French Quarter and along the strip that runs from The Quarter uptown to Riverbend it’s a reality that is more or less normal. Not that normal is in any way what it used to be. There are indeed shops closed and closing every day. Going out of business sales in the heart of the tourist district, boarded up apartments and storefronts along Magazine. But in post-Katrina reality this is the upside and if you’ve never been here, or if you’ve been here only a little, or if you were just too drunk to pay attention when you were here before you really wouldn’t notice much difference, and things would seem like they’re getting back to some cool, perhaps even amazing (depending on your personal experience and expectation), process of rebuilding. There’s even a real upside in some areas. The ever-present putrescence of Bourbon Street (“I love the smell of vomit in the morning! Smells like… commerce!”) has been washed away in one bold move by the creation of a new citrus based cleaner that makes The Quarter smell “april fresh” even in May (whether it can pull off the same trick during the dog days of summer remains to be seen). There are sparkling new clubs and restaurants from Canal to Frenchman’s Street, growing up like new saplings amid the rotting detritus of a clear cut forest.

The tourist areas of New Orleans don’t look like they used to, but you would be hard pressed to explain precisely what is different. If you’re expecting a devastated urban landscape, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and if you can keep yourself oriented to these areas you might even go home feeling like “things look pretty good down there.” I find myself looking at these areas like I used to look at my neighborhood in San Francisco’s Western Addition 30 years ago. Things could certainly be better, but the broken down doorframes and sagging windows add an engaging character to the place; they serve as architectural reflections of the unique bohemian human spirits that populate this landscape. If these places looked better than they do (and they will some day) the strange and glorious human spirits that they mirror would be absent as well. They too will be gone some day, but for now they remain.

Move beyond the few blocks that make up the tourist heart of New Orleans and, like stepping past the “beauty spots” in modern National Forest Service land management, you enter a whole different reality. The outlying areas of New Orleans (and even those areas at the geographic center of the city) remain nearly as bereft of life as they did 21 months ago. In the areas hardest hit by the floods, houses remain broken and askew. Many neighborhoods don’t contain a single recognizable building. Most neighborhoods, on the other hand, host identifiable, but uninhabited and uninhabitable, structures. Follow the main drag of Canal Street up toward Lake Pontchartrain (something you can now do on the newly functioning streetcars) and within three blocks of Bourbon Street you begin to see shuttered buildings and broken down homes; by the time you reach mid-city it begins to take on the eery look of a post-modern, post-apocalyptic landscape.

This is the other New Orleans. This is MOST of New Orleans. It’s an empty land of memories, hopes and desires with no place for people to live and grow and little evidence of change or improvement. And this is the New Orleans that matters most. Without Mid-City, without Gentilly, without Lakeview, Central City and the infamous Lower Ninth, this isn’t really a city at all. New Orleans without the people already exists. In fact it exists in two places, one in Florida and one in California. New Orleans, as many people seem to think it should be, resides in the every day experiences and night time imaginations of thousands of visitors to Walt Disney’s “New Orleans Square.” Without the homes, the churches, the businesses, the people… New Orleans is the same as those places on the opposite coasts (only with more crime). To be a city, to be a place that matters in the hearts, minds and zeitgeist of now and future culture, The Big Easy still needs some Big Big Help.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Of course, we could always ride to safety on the backs of "Palmetto Bugs!"

Swamp Land for Sale or Trade!

So... there's a story in the Times-Picayune online tonight (I expect that it will be in the actual paper tomorrow morning) that discusses the fact that the state and city have still not contracted for the buses they will need to evacuate people should there be a hurricane bearing down on New Orleans sometime in the coming 6 month hurricane season (which officially starts in just over two weeks). The predictions for how much this will cost run about $3,000 per bus and they expect they will need at least 750 buses (though most peopleseem to think they will need mroe than that). That's $3,000,000 just to get people out of the way, and it of course begs the question, how will they then get back? After Katrina, people were basically given one way tickets out to the hinterlands with no real sense of how they would return (which is a big reason why many indeed have not).

As someone who, for medical reasons, doesn't drive at present, this whole plan is something that I am rather significantly concerned about. The article includes discussion of commandeering school buses should the supply of fancy air-conditioned $3,000 rigs (which have yet to be contracted for, remember) prove insufficient. Well... if ya believe that one... I've got an abundance of land (most of it just down the block) I can sell ya for cheap.

You see... I remember leaving just before the last one. I remember Nagin standing up in the press conference and talking about the buses they were sending out for people and I remember seeing the people standing down on Claiborne and I remember seeing ONE... that's right...ONE... lonely school bus pulling down off the interstate as I was heading the hell outta Dodge (just me and the wonderful Roxanne).

As I have been back in town over the last three weeks, I have seen a lot of encouraging signs of recovery. Not enough mind you, but some good signs. I have also seen people who are clearly determined to do THEIR part in bringing the city back and rebuilding a life in this amazing place. What seems to be missing, over and over and over, is the same thing that was missing two years ago. The government, from the Feds through the State and down to the Mayor, has consistently dropped the ball, and is obviously continuing to do so.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't expect the government to take care of everything, and frankly it is not my experience that there is anyone (at least not anyone I know) who really feels that way. I do, however, expect the government to take care of what the government - ANY GOVERNMENT - is supposed to take care of... it's the REASON we have governments! What individuals cannot do for themselves we band together and empower (and pay) the government to take care of. Well, as far as I can see from beginning to end (and going on 21 months now), most of the PEOPLE are doing their share... and the GOVERNMENT has abdicated its responsibility.

At times like this... I am tempted to suggest that the world doesn't make sense... but then (like the cartoon above) I am reminded that the world isn't necessarily SUPPOSED to make sense.

Anybody got a hot air balloon they wanna sell me real cheap?

I've even got some LAND I'll trade for it!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Beginnings... Endings... and Beginnings Again

On the first weekend, JazzFest began with a "Jazz Funeral" celebration of the life of Ed Bradley, yesterday it closed with an all day celebration of one of the true greats of New Orleans and New Orleans jazz, Alvin Batiste. In the picture here (from the Times--Picayune) Stephanie Jordan, Batiste's niece, honors him in song as he looks down over the Jazz Tent from his picture high above. All day long, from the first set with trumpeter Maurice Brown, to the closing notes of a giant brass band second line, the Jazz Tent streamed forth love and admiration for the man who was committed to his art, to his city, and to carrying the traditions forward.

At one point in the afternoon, Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr.- both true sons of the city - joined Bob French and his band, along with some of Batiste's students from NOCCA, to offer up their own joyous celebration of this man's life well lived.

This is the essence of The Crescent City, a way of looking at life, and death, in the overall reality of ongoing existence. The energy and the connection in these acts reflects the dynamic life force that is struggling up from out of the mud of Katrina to bring this place back to new hope, new creation, and new life. This year's jazzfest was a microcosm of, and a symbol for, that reality.

The last week and a half have been good to and for me. Things are not back to normal, and what "the new normal" will be remains to be seen. But for the first time since Katrina, I feel a genuine sense of hope that the city is returning to life.

In the great tradition of the jazz funeral... the music leads the way.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Wonder of Life in The Tropics

God I hate these things!

I did an audio blog about "Palmetto Bugs," the name people in New Orleans, and in Florida, give to these giant frigging mutant ROACHES that are absolutely everywhere, back when I first moved here in 2005 and here they are again... two years later.

But it's one thing to find them strolling along the street and following you home as they did back then (I'm serious... these guys do not run away like normal roaches) and quite another thing to find one the size of your aunt sitting in your sink and drinking martinis when you go to brush your teeth.

There's a lot of conversation and advice about these things online, but the ultimate gist of the whole pointless conversation tends to be... well, there ain't much you can do about them.

My friend John Fohl, who plays guitar for Dr. John, referred to them as pets while we were chatting over drinks back before Katrina... and for a long time after The Thing they were nowhere to be found. Well they are here now... Half of the PEOPLE who are residents of New Orleans aren't here, but the frigging ROACHES are... believe me!

Ultimately, I desire to care for "all sentient beings" like the Boddhisatva I wish to become, but right now, as I am preparing for bed with visions of giant mutant insects crawling across my face in the night, all I really want to do is nuke every last one of them (and especially the one in my sink who escaped the wrath of my flip flop) into ex-existence. Of course, there is some evidence that suggests they might survive that too.

These things really are the Kings of the Earth and I am ready for some serious regicide.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Rain Rain Go Away...

So far... the highlight of the second weekend of JazzFest was the rain. It flat freaking POURED for several hours yesterday (and the night before) complete with the thunder and lightning that you rarely see and hear in California but which does my little tropical heart good.

The primary downside of all that rain is that it once again shows the weaknesses in the pumping system that is one part of the flood protection this city so desperately needs. According to an article in the Times-Picayune this morning, the storms knocked out power to some of the pumping stations and there was some significant flooding in parts of the city. There was even flooding at JazzFest as water began to rise in the Jazz Tent, where I took refuge, but it receded eventually and it's hard to complain about the weather when its primary result is to put you inside to hear Sharon Martin, Ellis Marsalis, and John Boute for going on three hours. In addition, once the rain cleared away I got to hear a smokin' set by Judith Owen the glorious pianist/chanteuse who is married to Harry Shearer and brought him along for bass and moral support. She was also joined by New Orleans' Roland Guerin (also on bass) and Philip Manuel on additional vocals. There was a promised appearance by the fabulous David Torkanowski, but time ran short and he begged off in favor of a tribute to New Orleans written by Owen.

A few oysters, a cup of beer, Judith Owen... ahhhhhh... what's a little rain?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Too Much Love... Too Much Fun

This is a picture taken of Ivan Neville from the back of the Gentilly Stage at JazzFest this Sunday while a new bunch of old New Orleans musicians played together as the New Orleans Social Club. The little yellow arrow is pointing at me (or at least a reasonably good guess at me) in the crowd. These guys (a loosely bound together group featuring, Ivan, Henry Butler, and Leo Necontelli, and including Irma Thomas and John Boute, and really just about anyone they can gather together to play together at any given time) have been a traveling band of rockin' NOLA reminders as they have worked their way across the country over the last year and a half. But on Sunday they simply tore up the stage and proved, again, one of the reasons New Orleans matters. It was a great show, and for me the highlight of the first weekend (though Sonny Landreth's smokin' version of Congo Square to close out his set in the Blues Tent on Saturday would have to be a close second).

There was also a makeshift jazz funeral/second line at the heart of the fairgrounds for a great friend of New Orleans and an exemplary party person in his own right, Ed Bradley (Times-Picayune coloumnist Dave Walker has a great piece on Ed and what he means to New Orleans that's definitely worth a read). There was a jazz mass for Ed at St. Augustine's Church on Sunday morning where Dr. John, Irma Thomas, and the Treme Brass Band played him home. I missed that one unfortunately, but that's the nature of Jazz Fest.... just too many opportunities.

And that's the difficuulty that I face in attempting to communicate what's been going on over the last week since I got on a plane in San Jose and landed in The Crescent City. I have begun about a dozen different pieces of writing and reflection, some of them entertainment based, others featuring food and drink, and of course a certain level of the on-going personal and political reality that settles on everything like the humid air.

But frankly... all of that is going to have to wait until I have some more time... this afternoon I've got a Marcia Ball concert to get to and two parties to catch!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Back to The Land Of Dreams

This appeared on my computer this morning as my opening page. Another in a long series of synchronistic love notes from storypeople.

In eight hours I will be flying off into the wild blue yonder once again, Goin' Back to New Orleans. I'm leaving pieces of my heart and life in California and returning after eleven long months to pieces that I've left in The Crescent City... I'll be looking for the sunlight and listening for the hope.

It should be an interesting month.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

rewind... Reset... RETURN!


I have booked my flight, and as of this morning I have a place to live; I am moving back into the apartment that I slept in only once... the night before I fled from Katrina.

After eleven months away... I am finally returning to The Crescent City.

I will only be there for the month of May before needing to return to California for work here, but I plan on going back in July and then again in August, making this some sort of permanent (whatever that means in my life and this context) residence back in the city of my heart. I've struggled with this a lot. In the ensuing months since I returned to California last June, with the plan of being here for less than a month, I have been riding a roller coaster of confusion and indecision (those who know me well know that this is not a particularly unique situation for me, but something that was instilled in me at an early age) about what to do. I'm not feeling that any more.

On Thursday evening when I finalized my one way flight to New Orleans (much like the one I took almost two years ago, and flying uncharacteristically out of San Jose, the airport to which I last returned), I clicked the button to conclude the transaction and immediately started to cry. I dashed off emails to several friends in The Crescent City and then I put on Cowboy Mouth and danced around the room... and I mean that I DANCED AROUND THE ROOM!

It's all so very trendy these days (at least in California) to ask people the ever present and often annoying question, "What's your passion?" I regularly have a hard time figuring out an answer to that (though I am having less difficulty than I used to) and regularly I grapple with trying to figure out a true and honest answer (which frankly I think is the appropriate response...but that's for another blog). Well, Thursday night... and right now... I don't have that problem.

My PASSION is New Orleans!

I want to live there, work there, play there, party there, and even grow old there. Admittedly, I have other places I love as well... San Francisco will never be far from my heart (especially as long as my DDD is there), Ireland (and probably Dublin) is a place where I plan to make a home for at least part of my life, and New York, where I actually have a job interview on Tuesday (we'll see what kind of a monkey wrench THAT throws into the mix), holds its inevitable sway... But New Orleans, and everything about her... the cultural gumbo, the musical jambalaya, the slow and often maddening pace, the racial and cultural mix, my dear friends, the heat... and even the humidity, is the place that calls me home. Even with the painful chaos of the city post-Katrina, these things have written their name upon my heart.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Toast to Love and Longevity

My friends Elizabeth and John celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on Sunday and I had hoped to make it to their party down in LA (that's Los Angeles by the way... the OTHER LA) but circumstances once again intervened and instead I had to celebrate with them from a distance.

J & E had sent out invitations to their party and had requested that if those invited couldn't be present in person that they would at least toast them with RED (Ruby being the proper element for the 40th anniversary). Well, I pulled out my red Keith Haring superhuman shirt, because these two friends are indeed super human in my experience, mind and heart. I went to the store and picked up a few Red Rocket Ales to toast with and poured them into a red glass for good measure. I thought about putting on my red shoes as well, but by that point I was beginning to feel a little OCD coming on so I let my feet slide. After I gave them a call to wish them well, and I gave them my absentee toast, I put on this song and danced around the living room (even without my red shoes) to celebrate their sharing so much for so long, as well as to celebrate the fact that they have shared themselves (and their family) with me for 25 of those years. My far too infrequent interactions with John and Elizabeth are some of the great highlights of my life and they are two of my favorite people on the planet. It was a great delight to participate with them in celebrating their life together, even if I had to do it from a distance.

John and Elizabeth... here's to another 40 years (let's just keep it going) of more love and happiness for you and those with whom you share your lives.

You make my life lovely.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Running to Stand Fast

I got bad news when I woke up this morning. My application for the Dipsea Race was rejected because they had already given out all of their places before I had even mailed mine and I didn't have much luck at the lottery, but then that's not really ever been a strong suit of mine; I'm not much good at fishing either, except for this one time when I was a kid at a Catholic school carnival with my next door neighbors, the Gross's (yes, that was indeed their very unfortunate name). I went fishing in one of those gold fish booths where they hook some sort of prize on your line and I won a big ol' Pineapple Upside Down Cake (the first one I had ever seen let alone tasted) and proudly took it home to be devoured by the family. To this day Pineapple Upside Down Cake is one of my favorites and I'm sure it has to be because of that fishing booth. Now that I think of it, that entire experience might explain a lot of my concept of God, my devotion to religion for the 45 years since, and probably even my love for New Orleans, undeniably the most Catholic city in the United States, but I suppose that's really material for another blog (probably relegated to Butting Heads)... In any case, I woke up this morning to discover that I had not gotten into this year's Dipsea and I AM BUMMED.

All that said, one particularly positive thought did cross my mind and that is that I've been steadily reevaluating the wisdom of my Big Sur Marathon plan over the last couple of weeks with the thought of moving my marathon goal to the San Francisco Marathon at the end of July. This would have the advantage of both giving me time to train more effectively AND to raise more money (being that most of you people have not really been holding up your end of this blogging bargain). It would also allow me to go to the first weekend of Jazz Fest which has been grinding on me a lot. The one downside of the San Francisco Marathon has been that, being on the other side of the rather precarious Dipsea, I might have sprained my ankle or broken my leg prior to having the chance to run. So I decided to take my rejection in stride (this was aided by my daughter's suggestion that she might actually run Dipsea WITH me next year) and consider it a confirmation of my new marathon plan.

SO... here's the new plan.

Instead of running (really mostly walking) The Big Sur Marathon on April 29, I will be RUNNING the San Francisco Marathon on July 29. This holds an extra little perk in that August represents the 30th anniversary of when I moved to San Franicsco in order to attend seminary. In addition the race is three days away from the second anniversary of my move to New Orleans, and my subsequent exile back to California.

To really make this inspirational (for me if not for you) I am launching two very audacious goals. One is to run this marathon in under 4 hours which will be a significant record for me (and about two hours faster than I was imagining I could run Big Sur). The other is that I am upping my fundraising goal. I plan on raising... drum roll please... $26,200 ($1000/mile) for New Orleans charities when I run this race.

I'll be letting you know more about that here, and I will be putting up an informational website on the fund raising shortly, but if you'd like to get on the mailing list for info and updates, please drop me a note at

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More Fun Than An Easter Egg Hunt

There's a reason that "city people" live in cities. This past Easter Sunday was one of those kind of days for me. Getting a chance to catch the 7th Annual Bring Your Own Big Wheel on Lombard Street was definitely a highlight of the day. This is the kind of event that reminds me why I chose to live in San Francisco in the first place, and why despite the fact that I presently reside 45 miles to the north in Petaluma, I am always trying to get back there. It also tells me precisely why the other city that I call home, New Orleans, is so close to my heart. BYOBW is the kind of event that would take place in New Orleans if New Orleans only had hills.

The day began with a bus ride into the city to meet up with my daughter for the really big show at Grace Cathedral, a grand and glorious celebration that Jen and I have been going to together since she was in high school. When the bishop walks up to the big steps of the Cathedral and pounds on the door with his staff and they open those doors for the entourage to enter the cathedral and proclaim "Christ is Risen!" I feel like I am transported back through the centuries, joining in with the millions of believers throughout history who have pinned their lives to the tail of the stupid little donkey riding into Jerusalem on the Sunday before. To stand there with orchestra, organ and choir ringing loudly and to be there with my daughter... it is one of the highlights of my life... every single year.

After church Jen and I went our separate ways and I headed down to North Beach for Banja Calda and a glass of Chianti at The Stinking Rose. After lunch I stopped for a beer at my favorite table upstairs overlooking Columbus in Vesuvios, where I like to commune with the spirits of writers, poets, and artists from San Francisco days gone by.

After that it was back up to the cathedral for the 3:00 pm Jazz Mass, the rare opportunity to hear great jazz played in the incredible acoustic cave that is Grace. This year the performers came from the SF Jazz High School All Stars, a group of remarkable players with a true jazz sensibility. They were a great great delight, and the perfect prelude to the final event of the day, BYOBW on Lombard.

You can catch more of the Sunday Shenanigans here. If you have the time to watch, this 8:27 video is almost as good as being there. After I piled through the crowd to watch the three races, I climbed Lombard back up (and then down) to Fillmore where I caught the bus out of the city and home to Petaluma. The only grim part of the day occurred while I was making my way up the hill; a young man, looking remarkably like Lenny Kravitz (and wearing a killer pair of red and black bug eye sunglasses) stepped to the side to let the old guy pass. "Excuse me sir..." he said politely, then eyeing my suit, he smiled and said, "It looks like this is your neighborhood." I laughed and shook my head. "I wish," I said. As he passed on down into the crowd and I moved up and on, I thought to myself... yeah yeah you wait until next year buddy! This old guy's gonna grab a Big Wheel of his own, and he's gonna SMOKE YA BUTT!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Why Do You Seek The Living Among the Dead?

Normally, most mornings I try very hard to be alive before I turn cyber. That can be hard to do since my computer sits right next to my bed. On Sundays I also try very hard to take a "digital sabbath" and stay away from the computer altogether.

But this morning my brain was cracking alive and jumping like popcorn and I got up early to think through the ideas skipping around in my head and I happened to pause at the computer, where I found this daily story from the story people. I had to get on and post it. What better story than this for Easter?

It seems to me that this is exactly the experience that most people have of God; it is often the experience that I have of God. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just pin that amazing formless energy down to something specific? Wouldn't it be great if we could harness it for ourselves: for our own agendas, our own prejudices, our petty arguments and horrific wars?

Yeah... it would be great! And it would be dead.

Instead God comes to us on a crisp spring morning and says... "Hey... how about we change it up?"

That's the message of Easter to me. Jesus refuses to simply lie down and be predictable... and dead.

As far as I can tell, he expects the same thing of all of us; he expects the same thing of me.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Outlaws of God

These days a title like that is likely to have me answering the door to a group of nerdy little men in bad suits, brown shoes and shiny gold badges... That is, assuming that they bother to knock at all. That doesn't really bother me too much; it wouldn't be the first time.

The chosen title comes from a short bit in the little book of meditations that I've been reading almost daily for the past year. The particular selection was something that I recognized as very familiar when I read it this morning, and then when I noticed its source, I realized that I had been reading it every few months for the better part of the last 30 years. It's originally from my favorite Merton book, "Raids on the Unspeakable."

"Every plant that stands in the light of the sun is a saint and an outlaw. Every tree that brings forth blossoms without the command of man is powerful in the sight of God. Every star that man has not counted is a world of sanity and perfection. Every blade of grass is an angel singing in a shower of glory."

I can't think of a better hymn to the glories of this gorgeous spring day and the radical absurdity of finding joy in the sunlight glinting off the long green stalks of grass (which I should have cut weeks ago), the tiny buds just now popping out on the dead branches of the tree outside my window, or the twitter of birds on the fence next door. Even my cat, Milo (she's not really my cat per se, but she has adopted me), is finding peace in the sunlight next to my zafu.

In my little pocket book of meditations the quote is included in a section on "A Theology of Love." It begins with Merton reflecting on the reality of a "different kind of justice" and "another kind of mercy." A whole new way of looking at things, removed from the rigidity of our limited perception of good, and evil, and justice, and time.

Gandhi is said to have declared that one must "become the change you want to see in the world," and I have been struggling with the sense of that, the real down on the ground earthiness of it, for the last ten months specifically, and most of my life in general. Right here in front of my computer, right now on this fresh spring day, I catch a glimpse of it in the outlaws who surround me; the saints who choose to grant me the gift of today.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Life Is Good...

I woke up this morning to this story on my browser from the storypeople people, whom I have been fond of for 15 years at least.

This, however, was the first time that one of their pieces was as pointed and poignant to my own life (there have been many others... but this one took the cake).

Now... it's the other end of the day and I just got in bed, like I have done so many nights over the last many weeks, and I GIGGLED... AND I SMILED... and I thanked The God/Goddess/Universe for the beauty, joy and peace that I have been given recently.

And then... I just had to get out of bed and write this... pray it...
Into The Mystery... to all of you.

What a great day!

What a good life.



Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kicking at the Darkness in the Grand Lake

Last night I sat down and watched CSPAN (something that I'm actually doing more and more of these days as I listen to the battles mount in Washington over this illegal, immoral, evil and stupid war). CSPAN was covering the rally that took place at Oakland's Grand Lake Theater this past Saturday. I've written about it on Washington's Cousin, so check it out there.

It was an event that I wish I had actually made it to rather than watching it on TV several days later, but the fact that it happened at all, and the fact that something (ANYTHING) is being said and done to put a stop to the juggernaut of lying and murder is a good thing.

This past summer at the Baptist Peace Fellowship Camp in Atlanta I had the priviledge of being present when Barbara Lee was given an award for her courageous and solitary stand against the war... This event just makes me glad to know that there really ARE people of integrity and hope in the World and that they have the courage and fortitude to stand up and say STOP.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Running On Not Quite Empty...

I got a lot of encouragement this week. I received several contributions for New Orleans charities (I also DIDN'T get donations for New Orleans charities from some people I thought would jump on it, but that's another story)and I received several emails of encouragement to keep up the run.

Yesterday, I went to church at Grace Cathedral in The City and experienced an incredibly synchronistic service. To me that's not all that strange... One of the interesting things about attending a church with a liturgical tradition (unlike the Baptist church I was raised and trained in) is that the prescribed seasonal readings open up the opportunity for a breakout of subconscious connection that doesn't happen when everything is intentionally planned.

It was sort of a Lenten Epiphany... so to speak.

Following the service and a drive through San Francisco, carried along in a basket of spiritual energy, I drove back to Petaluma and ran my 13.1 mile half-marathon training run.

It was slow... but it was great!

I'm ready to go and I am determined to pursue not only the run, but the goal of raising money for the city that America has already forgotten.

I keep hearing all kinds of soft feelings and deep hearted concerns for the poor city, eighteen months after the storm... but frankly... I want to see people DO something. New Orleans NEEDS your help.

Friday, March 23, 2007


I just found out, to my great frustration and regret, that next week marks one of my favorite New Orleans events, The Tennessee Williams Festival. Last year I attended several panels and even got to compete in the Stella Shout Off where I received a rousing ovation, but no prize. I've been practicing throughout the year, and considering last year was my first spontaneous shot at the shout, I'm sure that, with a bit of a costume change and some serious direction, I could have TAKEN it this year... I'm sure of it.

Oh well... Next year in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Running to Stand Still...

This is a picture that I took of myself while in the process of running my first marathon in 1996. The Big Sur International Marathon from the center of Big Sur north 26.2 miles to Carmel Valley. It was an amazing experience and a killer run. The clearest image I remember (besides the whales off the coast) was the guy who was leaning up against a small wooden fence on the side of the road at about mile 22. He had his shoe off and was gingerly nursing his foot. As I moved slowly by (the blood from a broken blister squish squish squishing in my right shoe) I thought to myself, if I do that, I'll never finish the race.

So I kept moving and with a patient combination of walking and running (running very slowly) I made it to the end.

I ran that race that year as a celebration of the fact that Marsha had beaten cancer and that she, and our family, had made it through the 9 months of chemicals and surgery and suffering that represented the battle. As I climbed the long hill up from Bixby Bridge to Hurricane Point, I cried as I pushed myself with the memory of how Marsha had pushed herself over and over, every day, through the cancer and back to health. I ran with a mantra in my head... "If Marsha could do that, I can do this." It got me through.

Six years later, in 2002, I returned to Big Sur, with Marsha along for the ride, to run the race again. This time we stayed together at Deetjens Big Sur Inn where I had stayed by myself before, and Marsha drove the car up past the runners to meet me at the finish. It was a bit easier that year, and I ran it a bit faster. It was still tough. It was still fun.

This year, as part of my newly discovered determination to get things back on track and to move forward from this stalled position that I have been in since Katrina, I have decided to go back to the Big Sur Marathon, and Hurricane Point, and do it again.

I am really not in any kind of shape to run this race. I am probably in the worst shape I have been in since I started running over ten years ago, and my training got severely curtailed when I got the flu at the end of January and it stuck around for a month.

However... this past Sunday, after a particularly abysmal run, I came up with a plan. I am running this race for New Orleans in much the same way that I ran my first race for Marsha. The reason that I am telling you all this is because I have decided to use the race as a fundraiser for some of the causes in The Crescent City that really matter to me.

I've set up a website to explain this in more detail and to give you an opportunity to contribute. Please go there and join me. Everyone who contributes will get reports from me on how things went and how much we raised and ALL OF THE MONEY WILL GO TO CHARITIES IN NEW ORLEANS. I'm trying to figure out some additional way to say thank you, but I haven't come up with it yet... But I'll keep you posted.

Please join me! Please give!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Whole of the Moon

The morning in Northern California, where it's been incessantly bright and sunny over the last week, broke Irish grey and foggy just like it should be on St. Patrick's Day (at least that's how I expreience it in my imagination) but has since opened back up to the bright and shiney almost spring day that it is. The grass in my backyard is brilliant green (and way too long, but that's another story) and I am feeling elated.

My friend E sent me the card above and in the spirit of the day I am sending it out to you. I've spent the morning working on some new projects and compiling a 6 hour collection of Irish music (of all varieties, from Decklin McMannis with whom I share a birthday, to The Chieftains, to Sinead O'Conner, and The Waterboys).

My great wish for the day would be to spend next year in Ireland (as a "foreign born" citizen)... maybe even surfing on Achill Island, an island off the west coast that stands in the mist a sort of island Brigadoon (okay... so I'm mixing cultural metaphors here) that I found in a book a few years ago and have longed to visit ever since. Next year in Achill!

I hope you have a joyous holiday... I'm on my way to watch rugby with my daughter.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Looking for love in all the wrong places....

I've really been too busy with less important things than blogging and so I really don't have anything to say here, but when I saw this picture in Huffington Post, well... what the hell is a blog for????

What's Shrub thinking here? Personally, I think he's contemplating another back rub episode. But perhaps he's just pondering... "Firing all the lawyers would just makes me SO HOT!"

Something about the look on Harriet's face reminds me of my friend Pete DeKramer, but I just can't quite figure out what or why.

Captions are welcomed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kid... Have you rehabilitated yourself?

Marine General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had some things to say to the Chicago Tribune Monday and in this piece on George Washington's Cousin I make some observations about General Pace's theological militarism, and propose a return to one of the great tactics of the anti-war movement.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Taking some folks for granted...

It hit me this afternoon that I had let International Women's Day come and go with no acknowledgment whatsoever, not here, not in my daily life, not even in my dreams.

Last year I wrote a long piece on IWD, concluding it with a litany of the blessed women in my life. That piece is here, and I went back to read it so that I could remind myself of what, somehow, just got by me this year.

Despite the fact that I allowed the day to slip by me (I've been letting a lot of things slip by me of late), I still want to hold up the women who have brought me through my life, along with the women of the world who have somehow, quite miraculously, kept the rest of us from annihilating ourselves with nu-cu-lar war, or some other vile creation of our testosterone infected brains.

Thanks "Ladies"... I'm really glad you're around... EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Monday, March 12, 2007

An Answer to a Friend

Last week I received a letter from a friend of mine who was raising a rather angry question regarding why any of us (at least those of the left leaning perspective) should really give a damn about the condition of health care for returning vets. I decided to answer him publicly.

You'll find the response (along with his original email) at George Washington's Cousin.

On Reaching the 672nd Step

I read last week that The Dipsea Demon, Jack Kirk, died at the end of January at the age of 100. While we're speaking of what humans can do (and I was, just below, in that time warp of blogging where things stand still until you move them along again) The Dipsea Demon was one of those amazing humans.

Jack is one of my heros. He ran The Dipsea Race, from Mill Valley, over Mt. Tamalpais and down to Stinson Beach 67 times, winning it twice. "Old Dipsea Runners never die, they just reach the 672nd step," his most famous comment about the race, is based on the collection of 671 stone steps that runners have to take on at the beginning of the run from Mill Valley. It's a grueling little start and one of the many things that makes running The Dipsea so unusual and so incredibly fun. Jack's comment is a sentiment that most Dipsea runners take to heart and it reflects the weird and wacky commitment that people of all ages, shapes and sizes bring to the race. Once you run The Dipsea (the oldest cross country footrace in the U.S.) you really are a part of a strange band.

Jack continued to run the race until he was 96, when he didn't finish, but he made it all the way to the top of Mt. Tam anyway. It was the very next year, 2004, that I first ran the race and on that day he started with the first group, but was then sped around to the finish to meet the runners as they came home. Watching him at the start of this race that begins in the bucolic little suburb of Mill Valley, heads up through the redwoods on Mt. Tam, over roots, rocks and mud puddles only to then let gravity take over as the course hurtles down the other side toward the Pacific Ocean and Stinson Beach, was a stunning experience. At 50, I was in no real shape to run the race - I had certainly not adequately trained for it - and while I stood there trembling in my red running shorts and ankle socks, the vision of Jack, nearly twice my age, slowly moving toward the line to begin the tortured trudge up and over that hill I've lived with for thirty years and that Jack had covered so many times... Well, it's why I keep running.

I had the chance to meet and talk with Jack in 2005, the one hundredth anniversary of the race, when he put in an appearance as an honorary runner and where dozens of runners, all connected to Jack in some way, wore shirts that read "Family of The Dipsea Demon." He was friendly, engaging, inquisitive and delightful and his simple presence moved me to keep running this one of a kind footrace over the mountain.

Ever since that day, I've had the audacity to imagine that I was sort of taking up the mantel of The Demon, looking to a date many years from now (when I'm 65 actually) when I too will win this race (it's a handicapped race and so with another 12 years of preparation that's not exactly as impossible as it sounds). Jack of course has plenty of other people willing to pick up his crown and run on (and I should probably point out that Jack was a lifelong vegetarian), but you can definitely count me among the contenders.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

See What Humans Can Do?

One of my great guilty pleasures in the film world is The Witches of Eastwick, a film based on a John Updike novel, and directed by George Miller (who happens to have won an oscar this past weekend for Happy Feet). There's a scene in that movie where the devil (played, of course, by Jack Nicholson) kneels next to his dog and watches the three witches (played wonderfully by Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, and Cher)floating in the air above a swimming pool. He says to the dog, with an air of total admiration... "See what humans can do?"

Well, last night on ABC they ran a show about Oprah's new Leadership School for Girls in South Africa, and all I can say in response is... "See what humans can do!?!?"

I spent the entire hour lying on the couch and crying, tears dripping down my cheeks and laughter spilling out of my mouth as I watched in amazement. The thing about it is that it's not just (or even primarily) about what Oprah did, but rather it's about the amazing girls who came to the school, the struggles they go through on a daily basis, and the astonishing determination, resiliency, and focus that they carry with them and inside them. As I watched the show I kept thinking back to the many anti-apartheid demonstrations I attended in the 80s. I thought of the Artists United Against Apartheid album, Sun City, that was one of the only times when artists across popular genres really joined together for a project with teeth in it. I thought of the day the Nelson Mandella was released from prison, where I was and how I felt when I heard. I even remembered the Alice Walker essay on Winnie Mandella that I had just read (synchronistically perhaps) yesterday morning. All combined, it made me think, again, that miracles really are possible and that they come out of the actions of people who care.

Oprah's work on this school, her dedication to the girls and the "love is in the details" attention that she pays to the task of accomplishing the work is deeply inspiring and I woke up this morning with a determination in my heart to refuse the naysaying laziness that it is so easy to fall victim to on a daily basis.

It's rare (though not as rare as some people like to claim) that television is this inspiring. The show replays Saturday evening in case you missed it... Don't miss it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Mardi Gras!

My friend E sent me a card with this picture in it, and while I needed to make a bit of adjustment to the colors to make myself feel totally at home it really made me feel good and launched me into the mood of the day.

So... while I'm not in New Orleans with my body, I'm there with my heart and my head and my soul, sitting at my computer with WWOZ on the radio, broadcasting from Cafe Brazil on Frenchman's Street, and showing pics from the parades uptown and the drunk tourists on Bourbon Street. I'm missing my town, and I'm definitely missing the Indians on Claiborne and down at the Backstreet Cultural Museum.

If you want a taste of what you're missing (because if you're reading this you're missing that). Check out my MUSES page from last year where you can find some video of the parade and the general Mardi Gras goings on. You can also read an essay I did last year on the meaning of Mardi Gras if you go here.

All said... this is a day for remembering one thing...


Happy Mardi Gras Y'all!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

It's an awfully strange day for the goddess of love (pictured here from StoryPeople.Com), but then maybe that's the point of Valentine's Day anyway... it doesn't matter if you're prepared for it... Are you EVER really prepared for love?

Clearly, our world and our country is not particularly prepared for, nor even open to, love at the moment. Bush is busily ramping up the war machine again, spouting off words like "preposterous" to describe the suggestion that he might make up "evidence." Now where on earth would anybody get that idea!?

The House of Representatives is busily debating a resolution against Bush's latest escalation of the war, a resolution that does nothing except say, "we don't like this." I suppose that's better than nothing, but it seems remarkably inadequate under the circumstances.

A tornado ripped through New Orleans yesterday, once again tearing open the scars of a massive wound now 18 months old, yet still not even beginning to heal. Last week a kid turned himself in to the police for killing another kid after HIS MOTHER gave him a gun and told him to do it because he got beat up in a fight.

And that's just the first few things that come to mind.

It seems to me that in the midst of all this, Valentine's Day really is the perfect moment to turn around and remember those Burt Bacharach words about "What the World Needs Now..." The song may have been ludicrously commercial (is there a song written by Burt that isn't?) but it still hits the spot.

We do need love... and we need it right now.

Happy Valentine's Day...

Stop the War(s)!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Throw Me Somethin' Mister!

I had a strange afternoon, the rain pouring down outside my window, my brain rattling along through a whole collection of website updates and graphics tweaks and twists... but at the same time I spent several hours with the "Parade Cam" on, watching and listening to the first Saturday's Mardi Gras parades roll on by my former residence around the corner from Napolean and St. Charles.

It's a pretty strange way to experience the over the top craziness that is a Mardi Gras parade, though when you see someone get a really cool throw from one of the floats it's not quite as frustrating as when it happens to you while you're standing right there.

Mardi Gras is so much more than most people from outside New Orleans are able to grasp. It's a celebration of living, of hope, of life in all its weirdness, sadness, happiness and chaos. It's a way of shouting out to the universe, "I'm here!" and I had fully expected to be back in NOLA by now, celebrating another Mardi Gras with the hope and dreams of a renewed city and a new place to live. Instead, I'm sitting at my computer in California with rain pouring down outside and way too much work to finish before the day ends... the week ends... or this trip ends.

But it's still Mardi Gras and as weird as it seems I can even get into watching it on my little computer screen

I just can't wait until we figure out how to make it possible to grab some beads through the virtual air!

Throw me somethin' mister!!!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ripped Out and Cleaned Up

For the past three days I've been trying to figure out how to explain the feeling I have come out of my last week of sickness with, but the words (for one of the few times in my life) fail me.

Between the five days I spent in bed, horizontal 99% of each and every day, the raging fever and strange hallucinations, the meditations that pounded me with reflections on everything that has happened to me over the last eighteen months... well, I pretty much feel wrung out.

I feel... in some strange way... like I've been off in the high desert of my mind on a vision quest preparing me for the next stage of this existence.

That's the best I can describe it right now, and though I've been trying to write something clearer and better, it just hasn't risen to the surface yet. I feel new. I feel clear. I feel ready for a whole new journey

Let's go!

Friday, February 02, 2007

I'm sorry, but... I've been sick!

There's a joke about an alligator and a wide mouth frog that ends with the line I've been sick, but right now after four days of lying in bed all I can remember is the punch line.

Right now, because I really can't let a whole week go by with nothing happening in my business (not to mention the fact that I need to get out and get money to pay my rent), I'm sitting at the computer with sweat pouring down my face looking like some fevered Steven King character from The Stand or some such disease ridden story.

And while I'm on the subject of disasters, I've got to pass on the lovely news that FEMA has just sent me a letter demanding their $2,000 relief money back, because, according to them, I had another "primary residence." Well... I wish someone would have told ME that back when I was trying to figure out where to land. sharing my parents' little mountain house, sleeping on the couch at friends', living at the Days Inn (money they will no doubt also be requesting that I return), sleeping on the floor in my "office" in San Francisco and subleasing everything from rooms to couches for the last eighteen months.

And the important thing to remember is that I'm still one of the relatively lucky ones. this scenario is no doubt repeating over and over, everywhere people who have been subjected to the Bush Administration's FEMA treatment are still - EIGHTEEN MONTHS LATER - trying to find their way.

What a complete crock of shit!

Oops... I'm sorry, but... I've been sick!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I've Never Felt This Way Before

I haven't written in another week (YOU my friends were supposed to be kicking my butt about that. We had an agreement... remember?) and I have had several things planned to write about (from the State of Disunion to the ZAP festival), but when Mary sent me this video link this afternoon it stopped me in my tracks.

THIS is my answer to the dumbfuck who I had my unfortunate confrontation with last week.

THIS is what the Saints were all about this year and why it's the first time in my half century of life that I give a damn about a football team .

They ain't playin' Sunday... but they still won.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Thanks Boys!

Well… the great football hope ended yesterday when “Duh Bears” beat the Saints in Chicago. I was listening to WWL this morning to hear how folks in the Crescent City were taking it, and I was heartened by the fact that most people on the radio and phoning in were talking about how much the spirit of the team brought to New Orleans in the last few months. It seems to me that this is really the perfect end to the metaphor. For the Saints, the team that couldn’t win started doing a lot of winning this year and they came back with a force that was strong and dynamic and hopeful. They didn’t go all the way and win the Super Bowl, just like the city remains a long long way from real recovery, but the spirit is there and the hope is there and the will to pull it off is there.

Next year in Jerusalem.

Most people I know were expressing condolences to me yesterday as I sat down at my local watering hole still wearing my black and gold, and most of them understood that I took the game lightly (I’m not exactly a football fan) but that I also held a lot of meaning in the mythological container that it provided. Under circumstances like these, like a truffle pig in the woods, you dig for hope anywhere you can find it. I wasn’t the only one who found some in the Saints and most people I know understood that.

It wasn’t until later that evening that I ran into someone who just had to make the remark that, “I’m tired of hearing all about New Orleans and how the Saints are bringing the city hope.” Well… I lost my cool and let him have it. Not physically, but verbally. Blasting him with a diatribe I have unleashed before, but which I have held at bay in the last few months. I later apologized to him for the pummeling, but while I was sincere in the apology I’m not sorry for the feelings that were raised.

There was a nice video before the game that showed the reality of New Orleans RIGHT NOW. A New Orleans that pretty much looks the same as it did last year at this time with people still without houses, or help, or hope of much assistance from the people who promised it. There was an article in the New York Times over the weekend that took a look at the reduced population of the city and the dire predictions that it’s likely to remain that way. But with those exceptions, out here in the “real world” New Orleans is no longer news. While we can continue to dump billions of dollars and thousands of bodies and lives into Bush’s desert quagmire, and we can talk that thing to death (and just for the record – withdrawal IS a plan!) news from New Orleans has, for many people, reached the saturation point. In just the last week and half I’ve had two people look at me in all seriousness and say, “Well it’s pretty much all back to normal, right?”

How many ways is it possible to say NO!?!?!

So thanks again to the boys in Black & Gold for keeping New Orleans in the news (and forcing idiots like the guy I was talking to last night to have to face into the reality of America in 2007) and for giving New Orleanians (both in and out of the city) hope, if only for a little while.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dead Man Talking...

I've spent six hours over the last three days watching the DVD of Spike Lee's Katrina documentary, "When the Levees Broke" and it has been a deeply moving experience. There have been a lot of comments about one aspect of the film or another, but like most things it's pretty important to watch the thing for yourself and take it all in. For me, it seems pretty well balanced and pretty damn accurate. Even the controversial elements (like accusations by some in the Lower 9 that they heard explosions right before the levees broke) are treated with an examination from both sides. The only people that really don't get a pass in this one are the folks from the Federal government (Bush, Brownie, FEMA, The Corps of Engineers), and that seems to me to be the way it should be.

Through it all, the most disturbing moment for me came yesterday morning as I sat down to watch Act 3 before I started my day. Right there from the beginning is a brass band funeral procession followed by Dick Shavers strolling through the Lower 9th Ward and talking about all the people who had disappeared. As soon as he came on the screen I sat bolt upright and nearly spilled my coffee in my lap. The experience was exactly like seeing a ghost. As the scene continued on, I sat mesmerized by the image on the screen a young man full of life and potential, a great player, and, at least from everything I could see on the screen, a terrific man.

Now he's gone... 16 months after Katrina, another casualty of the storm.

Afterwards, I went to the Hot 8 website and found what seems to me to be the perfect song for the moment. RIP Dick Shavers... play that heavenly snare like nobody's ever heard.

Harry Shearer's column in The Huffington Post has some worthwhile things to say about the situation in New Orleans right now, and as usual Chris Rose has his share of things to say in two columns from Sunday and from Tuesday.

As for the rest of you... get the video... watch it... and do something. If you can't find a copy of the video, or you can't figure out what to do, email me or leave a comment and I'll help you figure it out.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Enough is Enough... Damnit!

This picture, taken from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, is of a man praying outside the house of the next to most recent murder in The Crescent City (there was another one this morning). The woman who was murdered at this house, Helen Hill, was not actually a friend of mine, but a typical NOLA acquaintance (which is pretty much the equivalent of a friend anywhere else in the country); a friend of a friend and someone I had met, but had not really gotten to know yet. Helen was the mother of a two year old and an animator and filmaker who, like me, was deeply in love with New Orleans. Her partner, who survives her, is a doctor deeply committed to public health and solid health care for those at the bottom of our economic reality. They were shining, bright, enthusiastic and loving people. Now... Helen is dead, her child is without a mother and her partner is set loose on a sea of confusion (and I would expect no small amount of bitterness).

THIS is the reality of my city at the start of 2007. Less than a week ago Dinerral "DICK" Shavers, the snare drummer for the Hot 8 Brass Band, the up and coming challengers for the Brass Band musical crown previously held by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Reirth Brass Band, was shot and killed. The police chief of New Orleans likes to point out that the murder rate is down, but when you consider the fact that less than half the population of New Orleans have come home... well, per-capita, the murder rate is actually UP.

In less than four weeks, I am planning to return, but with this - and so many other circumstances - I don't know what that means. When I was living in New Orleans a year ago there was a sense of hope and progress; I'm not seeing much of that now. I hope I see it again when I return in a few weeks.

It seems to me that THIS may be the central issue of peace making in the world right now. All violence seems to be simply a highly expanded version of this "small" violence, a violence that we all seem capable of at one point in time or another, but which seems to strike too often in urban environments and in the houses of the innocent. As Gandhi said... "you must become the change you wish to see in the world." What does that mean... right here and now? How can I truly make the world, the country, my neighborhood, and my home a better and more peaceful place?

Or... to quote the Irishman with whom I share my birthday... "What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?"