Subscribe: Liprap's Lament - The Line
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
back  band  day  didn  houston  made  much  new orleans  new  orleans  people  place  school  texas  things  time  years 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Liprap's Lament - The Line

Liprap's Lament - The Line

Allow me to re-introduce myself. Exiled from my chosen home, I'm in close proximity to where I was raised. Outside of Houston, strongly tied to New Orleans, still.

Updated: 2018-03-05T21:43:38.547-06:00


Texmudgeon Melting...just a little


As connections between cities and people go, Houston and I have not had the best relationship."What could make you dislike Houston so much?" my dad asked me recently? "It's not like you had any other city to compare it to. You were in Knoxville 'til you were four." Which is true.But when you begin your school days in a rock bottom situation socially speaking, everywhere else looks good. When you are teased mercilessly every school day for 6-7 years, everyplace else is paradise. And when your parents seem to be deaf to your pleas and to what is happening (Mom told me later they went with the rock - private school - over the hard, public school place in my case, to which I say, "Thaaaanks."), your need to escape is honed to an exceedingly fine point. Granted, I was a pretty crappy, oversensitive kid, but something in me didn't feel like I needed to be reminded of how worthless I was nearly every day of the week. Something had to give someplace. Which is where the Astrodome - actually, the entire Astrodomain, circa the mid-1980s - comes in.My first-ever major league baseball game was taken in under the Dome in my single-digit years. I came away with a nifty orange baseball cap and amazement that that many people could fit under one roof - including me! - and I didn't know any of them other than my dad (who brought me to the game), nor did they know me. It was probably one of the first inklings I got outside of TV and occasional visits to the beach that the world was far larger than I could even comprehend...and far more colorful. Garishly colorful, if you went by the multicolored seating on every level of the Astrodome. Downright celebratory if you checked out the six-shooting, cattle-roping, fireworks extravaganza that was the Dome's light-up scoreboard.I ended up at the entire Dome complex - which included an AstroArena, an AstroHall, AstroWorld...yes, there was a theme there - at one time or another all through my childhood, whether it was going with my dad to the Boat Show, to the Rodeo on school trips and with my family each year, a USFL Houston Gamblers game, and one time, memorably, to the city Science & Engineering Fair in eighth grade. The AstroWorld and WaterWorld trips were the greatest, however, because I went traipsing around on the rides there - without my parents. Unleash a preteen kid like me and her few friends on an amusement park like that with the help of one friend's season pass and hefty discounts obtained from coupons on empty Coke cans and what do we do? Ride this four times in a row, because we got there when the park opened and there was no line, we were finally tall enough, and there were no adults or siblings to hold us back. My passport to paradise, courtesy of Judge Roy Hofheinz's kitschy vision.Lots of good things come to an end, however. I got a little older and wasn't hankering to see live music at the Southern Star Amphitheater or in the Dome as much as I was as a preteen, nor was I going to the Rodeo. I got more interested in Houston's art museums and in the opposite sex...and then we moved away after my sophomore year of high school. The Dome's fortunes seemed to go downhill around the same time. The scoreboard was ripped out and more seating put in its place as a condition of keeping the Oilers in town, but the team left for Tennessee anyhow a few years later. A convention center was built right in downtown Houston, drawing those types of events away from the Astrodomain, and then a ballpark was built downtown as well, causing the Astros to leave the Dome's orbit. AstroWorld and WaterWorld are memories now. The Texans currently play in a stadium that dwarfs the Dome, which I never thought would happen. Ever. All there is now is the shell that Hofheinz dubbed the eighth wonder of the world, closed to the public & waiting for sixteen years now for a new fate of any kind whatsoever, be it demolition or redevelopment.When I heard that the Dome was going to be opened to the public for an hour on its 50th anniversary, something in me told me I had to be there. I dragged my so[...]

About Girl


It was a crappy job compared to the others I had been able to get shortly after I started it - sometimes, when it rains, it pours - and after only a few days, I had to quit being a cashier at Dean & DeLuca in Soho because I couldn't justify fitting it in with three other jobs I'd just gotten that paid far better and gave me more hours. The only gratifying thing about it had been seeing a woman I recognized right away, but I had to play it as cool as she did onstage because you can't geek out on someone when you're handling her purchases and making change for her, and you can NOT do that when she's got her toddler with her and just looks...tired. Kim Gordon still exuded a stoic badassedness despite it all, though, and I stood a little straighter at the register that day after she'd gone. If she could make it through her days with a kid (something that, at the time, I was sure I was never going to do), I could hold out a little longer myself.Gordon was an absolute icon for people like me who'd become art and music fools in the '80s and early '90s. She wrote for ArtForum and Spin, was one of a trio of girl bassists rocking the world in their respective seminal bands (Gordon did it in Sonic Youth, of course - the others were Talking Heads' Tina Weymouth, who'd gone to my art school, and the Pixies' Kim Deal, who eventually sang "Little Trouble Girl" on Sonic Youth's Washing Machine album), worked as an artist in her own right, and reigned as an all-around symbol of the cool New York woman making it in a man's world. I got on a kick near the end of my college years where I was listening fairly obsessively to a lot of Sonic Youth, running through Daydream Nation, Sister, Dirty, Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star, and especially EVOL so much I may have worn out a tape or two. I read Confusion Is Next and got a lot from it about where Sonic Youth fit into the alternative and indie scenes, but not much about Gordon herself.There were girl groups and divas, chanteuses and belters, but Gordon was clearly a woman in Sonic Youth, another member of the band who clearly functioned as a band member, not necessarily as a standout - at least, not in the recordings. I finally got to see Sonic Youth live in the summer of 2002, when I was in my second trimester (yeah, about that never I mentioned earlier...never say never) and she was off in the distance onstage at Seattle's Bumbershoot festival, definitely not just a player in the band. She spun like a dervish when she could, free and easy, a little off-kilter at times, but still a force, a woman in the world.I read Gordon's memoir recently and gained a great deal of insight on those times, even the whirling dervish ones (the hiring of Jim O'Rourke to take on some bass duties in Sonic Youth was indeed freeing to her, and it showed) - but somehow, she still retains an aspect of holding the world at arm's length, explaining only the things that could come from her. Girl In A Band is not going to go deeper into Sonic Youth's interpersonal workings, nor will it go into major motivations for Gordon's art - the former, she says, has already been dealt with by many other writers; the latter presumably invites readers to seek out her art, as it speaks for itself.Where Girl goes is back to Gordon's childhood, in which a domineering older brother picks on her for displaying any emotion at all, birthing her stoic demeanor. It turns out later that that same brother is schizophrenic, but by then, Gordon has moved on from her California girlhood and into the arts, wherever they may take her. And the places she goes...from Otis Art Institute to York University in Toronto to New York City in the early '80s. She careens from job to job, apartment to apartment, then finds a place for herself from out of the influence of NYC's No Wave scene and her relationship with Thurston Moore, a fellow No Wave enthusiast bent on getting a band going. Once Gordon and Moore get together with Lee Ranaldo, Sonic Youth is born.It's not like Gordon doesn't speak of the band at al[...]

Giant Step*


A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for my turn to step off a platform and ride in a harness that, if all had been checked and re-checked correctly, would safely carry me down most of the length of a cable. Peering down from that platform had already caused a young kid to turn away & go back down the stairs, someone's small boy who probably shouldn't have been trussed up to go in the first place, but I was an adult who was game. Like my granddaddy before me who had faith in human engineering, I, too, had that faith, as well as the need to get that rush I'd always craved from roller coasters - which I haven't been near in a long time. The closest opportunity was this zipline at a campsite outside Waco, and I was taking it.I somehow recall being told to lean forward when stepping off the platform, which, for an incredibly long second, was scary as all hell. I felt like I wasn't harnessed for that second, the only thing between me and the ground being a rope attached to casters that I was supposed to hold onto for dear life lest I plummet five stories to the grass below. I'm not quite sure how I overcame that second, but I did. The ride was over far too soon, the line of harnessed adults and kids too forbiddingly long to wait in again. It wasn't 'til later when I realized I was probably the only mom to venture up there.It turned out I wasn't the only mom to zipline...I was one of two moms to do it out of nearly fifty at the family camp weekend. Yes, it helped that we two were parents of kids who didn't need loads of supervision, but the reaction I got from one or two other moms was mild shock at my foolhardiness. "How could you do that?" I was asked. Well, I just...did it. As did, in many cases, these moms' husbands and children. For most of these moms, though, it wasn't happening. Which made me wonder: did adventurous natures lack in the moms from their very girlhoods, or did having children make them more cautious?I shouldn't put ziplining and riding roller coasters as the adventurism bar here, though it's tempting. There are other ways to be adventurous, stuff that I'd probably turn around and ask, "how could you do that?" about. Once upon a time, having children was one of those things - on occasion, when people ask me why I don't have more than one kid, I still wonder how anyone can do as my sister-in-law and some others I've met have done and still make their way amidst the kid fray in their own households (cheaper by the dozen, my tuchus). I've been acquainted with roller derby moms, horseback riding moms, moms who get on Jet Skis regularly, and moms who can be parents and still hold down full-time jobs - the latter being something I felt made no economic sense for me to do once I had my son over a decade ago.These days, though, as I look for something more full-time outside the home, I wonder if I shouldn't have pooh-poohed those who thought I was letting feminism down with my decision to be in the home and occasionally part-timing it when I could. It's not like I was raised to see homemaking as a life goal - I was raised to see career goals and, more specifically, financial independence as being the bedrocks on which I had to raise myself up and then do what I wanted. Having a brother who was nearly fifteen years younger than I cemented the idea I had that I didn't want to have anything to do with children, much less have my own. Kids were messy, demanding, draining crapshoots who sprawled in the way of my dreams of being an artist, throwing tantrums in the face of those goals. Plus, I knew I'd been a difficult kid in many ways, a trial to my family for a long time. Perpetuating such a cycle was furthest from my mind...until I got burned out working myself to the bone as a glassblower and then I followed my husband to a new job, ill from morning sickness in those first few months in a new city.I now fill out applications online for all sorts of jobs, many of them in retail, some of which I get rejected for via email nearly right off the bat (although [...]

Hummingbird, Snore!*


Yeah, this is the only thing I want to do on a day like today, when the temperatures have dropped again, reminding us we aren't out of winter's woods yet...

  allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560">

I'm beginning to think my adjusting to this move to Texas, compounded by delayed after-Mardi Gras blues, is exacerbated by this whiplashing, indecisive weather. It's not like these seesawing temperatures haven't happened before. I've just been in generally better moods than before this winter.


So I'll just keep on keepin' on, I guess.


*title echoes this album

Krewe Of Pancakes And Syrup 2015


No, WAIT...NO NO NO...

Unlike a certain RIPOFF GRAS near the Texas Gulf coast, the following event is FREE to attend. I will be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras day, ensuring that y'all will have access to a place to pee. My email & Twitter DMs are in the invite below. Leslie is our new tenant in our old house, so don't bite anything other than the food.

You are Invited to the 9th Annual Carnival Ball of The KREWE OF PANCAKES AND SYRUP 
“the krewe with the edible doubloons” 

Where: Our House (email me for the location at or DM me at )
When: Mardi Gras Day (that’s Tuesday, February 17, 2014) from 8am until Leslie kicks you out
What: Open house with food (like maybe some pancakes and syrup)
Who: You
Why: We can’t eat all those pancakes by ourselves
Krewe Fees: We’re supplying pancakes, syrup, coffee, milk, juice, and probably Leigh’s homemade king cake, but as our friends, Pam and Jimmy used to note for their gatherings, “Act right and bring something!”

* Honorary Krewe Royalty: 
King… Cain C. Rupp 
Queen… Sylvia Doll Airpannkayques 

 Special Note for this Year: Yes, we STILL have no bananas – we have no bananas today!

 * food disclaimer: follow Leslie’s kitchen rules, whatever they are.

“Religious” disclaimer… We started this because we like pancakes, always make too many of them, didn’t want to give up our parking spots for Mardi Gras, and like company. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian tradition of observing Shrove Tuesday or “Pancake Day” by making and eating pancakes, which we didn’t learn about until long after we started this endeavor.

How Not To Move Back To (Near) Where You Grew Up


I returned to New Orleans this past weekend for a wham, bam, thank you, Krewe du Vieux semiforced march through the French Quarter and the CBD dressed as an artisan bag lady with a jacket made of Whole Foods bags, a Force-Flex and inflated packing cushion train, and a plastic hotel laundry bag hat. It was great, it was fun, I saw loads of people I knew along the parade route (walking on the level of the paradegoers makes for great intimacy) and got an earful of James Andrews stopping by with Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove at the very end.

And then I had to go home. Which is not New Orleans anymore.

In a sense, New Orleans will always feel like home. I'm not talking about that feeling. I'm talking about the physical move we had to do that isn't fully a psychological move yet.

In some inscrutable ways, our moving of ourselves and our possessions a mere six-hour drive away may never completely take hold, but there are things we could do to make it easier on ourselves. Perhaps it's only me thinking like this, but lately, I consider what was different about our few years moving up to Queens and our move to the Houston area and I wonder if our financial inability to hop a flight to New Orleans any ol' weekend wasn't a blessing in disguise...It forced us to get right into the community in which we lived, which began with our getting involved in the synagogue there, then joining a Yiddish chorus, then moving out of the high rise on Queens Blvd. we were in for two years to a townhouse with great landlords, all within a four-year period. We visited New Orleans once or twice a year, but our lives didn't revolve around those visits. I fear we're in danger of doing that now.

I know some of this is my husband wanting us to do the things we used to do around this time of year. It's Carnival season, and the bigger parades will begin rolling through New Orleans starting this coming weekend. When we lived close to the parade route and had other friends having parties of their own along the route, it was a family atmosphere, one that's tough to conjure here in a suburb with no sidewalks and few streetlights. Dan recently floated having our Krewe of Pancakes & Syrup on a different parade day morning other than Mardi Gras day morning so that we could somehow make as many midweek parade parties as possible. I knew in my heart that wouldn't work, but I crowdsourced the question via my New Orleans people on Facebook and Twitter to get the answer I already knew. My next days in New Orleans will be the Monday before Mardi Gras and Mardi Gras day itself, when I will be slinging pancakes like I usually do. And I'm okay with that.

I spend more time in this area, anyhow, and I begin to wonder about many things, most of them concerning change. My mother's ethos, "Change is good!" repeated to me many times in the past few months, is seemingly so anathema to where I moved from (despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary in actions and deeds) that moving to a place where supposedly change is more or less the raison d'etre is intriguing. So much of this city reminds Dan of the northern California city where he grew up, which has him unsettled possibly even more than I am. We're still getting used to the long distances here. We have a bar mitzvah to plan in the coming year, which is really blowing my mind.

And something in me is starting to ask a few questions about my past here. Questions I'm not sure I'm ready to try to answer just yet, but they're there, lingering. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe someday.

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560">

Tuesday Bluesday


Thank goodness. The jackhammering outside my door has stopped. For the time being, anyway.Some days, some times, just...suck. I can't put my finger on the exact time when things got so dull, so gray as the skies outside today. Perhaps it was our move here. My son's continuing adjustment to his new school, maybe. My spouse's dissatisfaction with his new job, or my dissatisfaction with my new part-time job. The fact that we can complain all we want to each other about our situations, but nothing will change them at the moment. Or maybe it's all the caution barrels, the jackhammering, and the excavating of the street directly in front of my house. Dumbassed small actions like buying lactose-free milk instead of regular milk only put a wobbly exclamation point on such tedium.I listened to all of Serial last week, took in a few parodies of it, and listened to Sarah Koenig on Fresh Air about the podcast. Initially, I was kind of perturbed that she was perturbed about the parodies. (Once you've listened to the podcast to about the sixth episode and seen the SNL parody, any mention of "the Nisha call" could well induce a giggling fit.) I think Serial is an incredible example of what it takes to dig and dig and dig some more in investigative reporting, but the truth of its format is that it is derived heavily from This American Life, down to the hip yet portentious incidental music and the vocal cadences of its host. Serial aurally brings to mind every detail of Hae Min Lee's murder, the trial and conviction of Adnan Syed, and what reasonable doubts are all about, catching up even good friends of mine in its investigation and perhaps putting too much emphasis on the "whodunit?" aspect despite constant assurances from so many professional quarters that the case was a hot mess (Listen to the frustration in Koenig's voice when she talks to Syed in the final episode; I think something in her really wanted to blow the case open.). It's hard not to poke fun at Serial's presentation and the earnestness of its host. It also shows the difference between being a producer of hard news and being a show host: it's a producer's job to fret the small stuff, and a host's job to just be a good parent, put it out there, and let it go. I think of how immersed Koenig was in the case, though, and can see how tough and surprising it must have been for her to see the parodies and wonder how anyone could laugh at something as serious as a murder case.Truth is, though, sometimes we need to laugh.Last week's shootings and hostage situations in Paris make it difficult, though. Listening to reports from the Marais on the closure of Jewish-run businesses & synagogues brings back shades of 1930's Europe to the 21st century. And then, atop it all, there's Netanyahu being the benevolent yet overbearing parent telling diaspora Jewry they can stop this silly wandering Jews thing and come back to mind the Holy Land. I pooh-pooh such baldly paternalistic talk and then I consider the horrifying year French Jews have had and an anti-Muslim march in Germany happens. "There are stun grenades?" my son asked when we listened to the latter story on the radio on the way to school. "I didn't know you could set grenades to 'stun.'"When it comes to brutality, we're learning all sorts of things these days. Thank goodness for satire, which has the imperfect capacity to be a universe all its own, with the best examples being the ones that instruct even as they present a repellent point of view. It is, after all, "designed to be misunderstood"...though the results should never prove to be fatal as they were for much of the staff of Charlie Hebdo. I'm heartened, that, though I cannot jump on the "Je Suis Charlie" bandwagon myself, its remaining staff members will continue to fart in our general direction.Perhaps a breaking wind is, in the end, the only way to cut these blues.[...]



Between raking and mowing the front and back yards so that the Swanky Haciendaland homeowners' association doesn't fine our lowly renters' asses, ferrying the kiddo back and forth to school, and teaching some religious school classes on the weekends, I've been doing a great deal of reading and contemplation of how in hell I ended up in Texas again.These days, the Houston Chronicle is running a series of articles on "accidental Houstonians," people who have moved here for work 99.99 44/100% of the time and have discovered that the Lone Star State - and Houston in particular - is not what they thought. I recently finished Don Graham's Lone Star Literature anthology and found that the essay in there that resonated with me the most (after Molly Ivins' spot-on and still horrifically relevant "Texas Women: True Grit And All The Rest") was Stephen Harrigan's take on his Texas upbringing. I am an accidental Houstonian twice over, but I only now get what a strange burden Texas mythology was and is. I have no yearnings for my childhood, because it was a painful one, and I have no real clue of what the Native American-roaming-to-cattle driving-to-oil booming days were like as that was all long before my time and was mostly the subject of commemoratory exercises such as Houston's Livestock Show and Rodeo and the rah-rah "look at all the oil drilling wildcatting, technology, and corporate largesse that made modern Houston possible" halls of the Houston Museum of Natural Science (many of which have been redone in the past thirty years or so, thank goodness). To get the perspective of one such as myself into a Texas anthology of any sort is to acknowledge to a very great extent that the mythology on which Texas stands is a chimera, as worthless in many ways as the grass for which General Fannin fought (more on this in a minute). What's apparent in many literary circles is that tales of modern, urban Texas have been left by the wayside in the face of the myths.My personal experience of these myths? Two anecdotes:Although I attended a couple of Jewish day schools in Houston, we still took Texas history when I was in fourth grade and again in my seventh grade year, getting a great deal of the reasons why our streets were named for certain people, why six different flags were flown over this territory at one time or another in the past three hundred years or so, and why we were living in the largest of the continental U.S.s' states poured into our brains. For me, it was mostly in one ear and out the other except for a tale of one General Fannin, who inspired his troops to attack a group of helpless Mexicans by pointing out the packs on the Mexicans' burros and telling the soldiers to do it for the gold in the packs. Once the dust cleared and the Texans were triumphant, they opened the packs to find that the gold was green thanks to chlorophyll and fit only for the burros to nibble on as they made their way over the arid, occasionally grassless plains.Way to go, Fannin.(I wonder if our "keep your lawn raked and mowed or else" homeowner's association has heard of this battle?)____________________________There exists, within my parents' family photos, a picture of one of the two times I dressed as a cowgirl.The time in which I'm pictured finds me at ten with hair to my waist, jeans, a gingham shirt, a vest, and a ten-gallon hat and boots borrowed from my dad. No, we didn't share hat or shoe sizes; I had to continually readjust the hat the whole time it was on my head, and I stuffed socks into the toes of the boots so that I could wear them. I don't remember how the hat looked, but I do remember the boots. They were tan and brown, nicely tooled but very worn in and dusty, made to look like some serious shitkickers that would distinguish my New Yorker dad from all the other Texas expats. Yeah, my dad was a ranch[...]

The Strange Crucible'd Case Of Lena Dunham


I've been reviewing music and books for Antigravity Magazine since 2011. Most of my reviews have been limited to 200-300 words, which has been both an exhilarating and excruciating challenge depending on the day, the works I review, the weather…you name it, I've written reviews through it (with the exception of Comcast constantly screwing us over on when they said our wifi would be installed - I missed a month of reviewing due to that that I still kick myself a little over). I try to keep what I review relevant to the New Orleans area readers of the magazine while throwing in some things that are of edgy/quasi-underground importance culturally on more of a national level...which is why I decided to review Lena Dunham's Not That Kind Of Girl for AG's November issue. Just after I submitted my short review, I got wind of the hubbub over the Kevin Williamson National Review take on Dunham's book (and, more specifically, the explosion over Truth Revolt's trolling "Lena Dunham is a child abuser" headline regarding the book and the review) and am reexamining what I wrote. After a lot of thought, I stand by what I wrote for AG. What follows is what I was thinking in reviewing Not That Kind Of Girl the way I did.When Girls got started, I wrote this:I am repelled, however, by some of what seems to be running through the most popular comedies today that star women, and I doubt that they are signs that things are being "equalized" between the sexes. I don't know that we have reached the point where female characters can screw up just as badly as men can without some major consequences being built into their stories, and without "redemption" including a relationship of some sort as in the movie Bridesmaids. It's kind of what comedies such as The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and Ally McBeal tried to do yet didn't really succeed at: presenting women as people that don't have to be complete airheads or complete superwomen, all one thing or all another. Also - women of color, of other nationalities, of other creeds, anyone? New York is full of those women. Perhaps no one wanted to attempt that for fear of offending any of them. Or, more cynically speaking, they just didn't sell. Not much proven entertainment value.And this, after watching the first episode & reflecting on my own privilege:Came across a phrase from critic Glenn Kenny referring to Lena Dunham's film Tiny Furniture that encompassed many of my misgivings about Girls' premise: " does represent the Cinema of Unexamined Privilege, let's face it." Yep, following in the footsteps of Metropolitan, Francis Ford Coppola's short(er) film Life Without Zoe, and - one that dates me some - Reality Bites. In the interests of examining my own privilege, my parents did pay for my health insurance and the charges on one credit card that I rarely used. There was no way in hell I was going to try to lobby for total support from them after college, though - I felt somehow guilty that I was still getting the insurance and the credit card from them. It was in large part what made me uncomfortable when I met people like the guy who had a storefront in Soho that clearly was not doing well selling his wonky glassware. I asked him if he was at all worried about that state of affairs, and he blithely replied,"Oh, I'm not worried. My family won't let me starve."First, and foremost, Lena Dunham is a grade AA, huge, HUGE neurotic.In a fictional context, and in much of the arts in general, being a neurotic can be a big advantage. It can be seen as a fount of creativity, a charming quirk, a sign of being edgy and with-it, and an excuse for all sorts of bad behavior. I've only seen season 1 of Girls, now chugging along on HBO into a fourth season, and it appeared, for better and worse, that Dunham[...]

Why I Now Mow


We are not gardeners, my husband and I. It's been a while since I tried to coax anything out of the ground or out of a pot. Our house in New Orleans had paved yards in place of grassy lawns and our property manager took care of trimming what bushes and trees there were and gathering the branches and leaves that dropped. The last time I had to handle an out-of-control patch of weeds running riot between the concrete, I got some saddleback caterpillar stings and had to retreat to get some Sevin pesticide. I imagined New Orleans gardening to be a contact sport for which I was little prepared. It was good to have that load off my brain.Enter our move to the greater Houston area. For the first time since Dan or I left our parents' homes to lead our own lives, we have a large front and back yard on which grass grows. We are charged with maintaining the yards in our lease. I hired a nice man named Pedro to come with a crew once a month to tackle the pine needles and pinecones of the front yard and the tendency of the backyard to become a thicket only Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom would love, but the grass still grows, the trees still drop leaves and branches. Three days ago, I took one look at our yards, pulled out the rake and our human-powered push mower, and started to gather the detritus and mow.I can't say that it's our lease that has motivated me, nor has it been the state of our neighbors' pristine green patches. The homeowners' association sent us a note that gave us ten days to get our lawn like all the others or else, which appealed to Dan's and my passive-aggressive tendencies. "Oh, WELL, let them come!" we said, only to get angry all over again when the property manager for this house asked us about it a month after we got the note. Fine, replant our yard - please! Oh, the woe, the gnashing of teeth over our living in a deed-restricted area.Replanting our yard isn't happening. Dan doesn't want to put any more money than he has to into a place we're only renting.Yet here I am, raking and bagging what I can, pushing the mower around in rows and circles, marveling at the loads of pinecones the evergreens are dropping. I saw a bag of cinnamon-scented ones for sale at a craft store. I could stick a sign out in front of our yard and charge people to gather ours, there have been so many. But I'm not into trimming grass and raking for the money.Our parents are gardeners and yard maintainers, such that it should have been in our DNA to yearn for our own patch of land to mow and cultivate, but the ways in which it was done turned us both off. In my dad, it presented itself as a magnificent obsession that warranted loads of weekend trips to Teas' Nursery, the planting of flower beds that resculpted the yard making mowing the front yard an act of bizarre, spinning intricacy at times, and the constant weeding and plucking of pansy petals. In Dan's house, his father made him and any friends who came over to his house do yard work; Dan made certain to spend chunks of his weekends at other friends' houses.Dan cannot take the smell of gasoline and other fuel oils in the garage, seeing it as mere storage space rather than a place to park the car, hence his choice of a gasoline-free push mower to cut the grass. "It'll be good exercise for me, anyhow," he said. "I could lose some weight." I can count on one hand the times he's wrestled with the mower - which isn't entirely fair, as we've only been here since July - and his one attempt at taming the backyard with a battery powered weed-eater ended with him throwing in the towel and acquiescing to hiring a professional. I've certainly done a good deal of walking, bending over to pick up errant detritus so that it wouldn't get stuck in the mower blades, and bagging of stuff in the past few days, but that exercise isn't why I trimmed and clea[...]

My 1835


Although Houston itself has quite the deserved reputation of obliterating its historical spots in the name of progress, expansion, and strip malls (it gets exploited for a bit of satire on occasion), Texas does adore its history, especially when it has to do with its ten years of independent living as a republic. The Come And Take It Festival in Gonzales, Texas at the end of this month wouldn't exist without one man's stalling for time by drawing a proverbial line in the sand and kicking off the Texas Revolution as a result. It's an event celebrated by many who love the right to bear arms to utter distraction and commemorated by flags that bear the image of a certain contested cannon and those four fateful words.

My personal favorite take on the flag bears the image of the Astrodome instead of the cannon on it; it currently sits alongside the behemoth that is NPG (formerly Reliant) Stadium, stripped of its seats and serving as glorified storage. It was Judge Roy Hofheinz's vision of the future, and if this town plays its cards right, another judge could help deliver a different vision that keeps the Dome standing. Until then, the place my granddaddy helped develop and manufacture plexiglass roof panels for will sit and wait in its asphalt sea of parking for news of its ultimate fate.

Though both flags are pretty interesting ones to consider flying in Swanky Haciendaland, which does adore and approve of patriotic displays as long as they're only a certain height above the ground, I have checked the subdivision's by-laws and my neighbors' yards and found that, though U.S. and Texas flags abound, there are other types of flags here. One fella's got three flying from tree trunks in his yard: a stars and stripes, a USMC flag, and a POW-MIA flag. So…

When I thought the 'hood restrictions only allowed either the U.S. or Texas flags on the lawns, I recalled a New Orleans version of the stars and stripes and ordered a couple - one for football season, one for Carnival time.

Though we have a handyman who's mostly AWOL and our internet seems to be MIA, I grit my teeth and revel in the little things to keep from going completely berserk. My small triumph of the day is getting this baby up before the regular NFL season begins. Long may it wave.

Come and take it, HOA.



I had been reduced to this:Sobbing at my kitchen table."I don't think I can make it through another week of this," I wailed to Dan, all the unsolved problems of our move looming like an insurmountable obstacle on my brain. Compared to what many people I know have gone through, my troubles are trivial, but they sit heavily on me, compounded by my having to go at them alone for the most part while my husband and son are at work and at school, respectively. So I must struggle away with problems like……applying to be a Texan.It sounds cute. It isn't. My car gets the privilege of becoming legal in this state before I do, where I must take it to an inspection station, then to a local tax assessor's office, and then I can get the okay from the state DMV for my Toyota to become a Registered Texan. I learned all of this when I tried and failed to get a Texas driver's license at the state Department of Public Safety, where I was turned away once for mistakenly bringing in a coffee ("No food or drink in the building. Please exit immediately." I'd've had a better reception if I'd brought uranium in) before being turned away for owning a Registered Louisianian car. Don't ask me why the state DMV doesn't handle the driver's licenses; I'm still trying to figure that one out. The only giggle I got out of the experience was seeing that a trampoline park is opening soon next door to the local DPS offices. I silently wished for many DPS employees to sustain some serious bounce-related injuries at a future trampoline shindig after the gatekeeper lady turned me away from the offices with a "good luck."Years ago, Texas floated the idea of putting its official motto, "The Friendship State," on its license plates. The notion was roundly booed by native Texans, who derided it as being too wimpy for a state where even the garbage pickup campaign was badass. I'm inclined to think the new motto ought to be "You Should Have Been Born Here," or, after my experience of finally gaining membership in the Swanky Haciendaland community center, "The Nanny State."Since we are lowly renters in this upscale burg, we needed signed, notarized permission from our landlady, a copy of our lease, and a form of ID with our current address on it to become members for a year, and then things got high tech. My fingerprint had to be scanned, then tested at the front door and the door of the health club to see if I could gain access. I was informed once my finger clicked open the front door that three cameras were mounted at the door, the footage was regularly checked, and if I was seen to let an unauthorized person(s) in, my scan would not allow me to gain access until I came in during office hours for a re-scan and, presumably, a reading of a deed-restricted Riot Act of sorts. It's looking like holding the little guy's bar mitzvah party at the place in nearly two years is a non-option.I told Dan and our pal Justin about the process and got both barrels of kvetching about 21st century police states in the Information Age. Dan vowed he'd never set foot in the place to get his fingerprint scanned. I started thinking about the role IBM played in the Shoah, dismissed that worst-case scenario, and figured the best the community center could do was teach Augusta National and some old-line New Orleans Carnival krewes a thing or two about exclusivity in these modern times. First they will come for the lowly renters with scruffy yards living right at the bumps in the otherwise smooth subdivision lanes. You heard it here.Talking about those two things is exhausting enough. I haven't even gotten to the fiasco thus far that is our attempts to get ComCast to supply us with WiFi. Nor have I kvetched sufficiently about our hard-to-get-in-the-house handyman Jesus…I can say [...]

Home Sweet Home Challenge


Thought I am not there physically - and I was not there nine years ago, either - this is the ninth anniversary of the levee breaches in New Orleans and the start of a hard Gulf Coast area recovery that for too many continues to this very day.

I read Bill Loehfelm's post today, however, and was reminded that, this many years on, our greatest impulse in the face of such tragedy must still be to live…

I bet most of you, if not all of you, have something you want to do that you’ve been putting off - until you get the time, until you get the money, you know the drill. Not something big, not the trip to Mexico or Paris, but something small around where you live that caught your interest and your imagination: a matinee on a weekday, a new restaurant or an old favorite you’ve neglected, an exhibition at a gallery downtown, a hike in the state park, a concert at a club that maybe means staying out a bit too late. That thing that makes you say, Man, I’d really like to…Man, I wish I could…

My challenge to you? Let the good times roll.

Do it. Do it today. Do it this weekend. Do it with someone you love. Call out sick. Spend the money. Because next week, next month, tomorrow - they usually come, they probably will, but sometimes they don’t and you’re left with the saddest words: “If only … “

Whatever it is, do it. As soon as you can. One never knows what will happen.

Betrayal, Grudge, Envy, Gossip, Lies…Silence


Because I am an incurable Twitter addict, I have been getting eyefuls of Ferguson, Missouri coverage and reactions in my timeline and have been repeatedly shaking my head over mistake after sick, violent mistake that keeps getting made by authorities in the wake of yet another senseless death of a black teenager.Because I am an addict of the printed word, I am getting around to reading some of my books whose spines I haven't yet cracked (incidentally, one absolute beauty of Nick Hornby's Believer magazine book columns is in the lists he maintains of books purchased and books read; all avid readers will nod at the very existence of both lists) and have picked up a few novels by Dara Horn, one of which contains the following passage on the "science" of some of the baser human actions, explored by a soon-to-be human in the time before birth:One time, they had to plant microscopic cells of betrayal in petri dishes, inspecting their growth over the course of the class. Daniel stared at the dish and was astonished at how quickly the cells multiplied, by how a surface that was pristine moments before metamorphosed within minutes into a gangrenous plate of rot. A similar experiment was done involving a grudge, with identical results. Envy, on the other hand, proved itself not to be contagious at all; instead, it ate its carrier alive. Another lab result that intrigued Daniel was when the class measured the speed of gossip as it traveled through various media, determining how its speed was affected by whether it was transmitted through speech, writing, broadcast, or silence. To his surprise, the fastest means of travel was silence, which allowed the gossip to move faster simply by refusing to stop it, facilitated through listeners who should have created some kind of friction to slow it down but instead failed to rise to the subject's defense. Daniel was slightly repulsed by the lab involving the dissection of lies, a gory procedure in which he and a partner had to slice through layers of smooth skinlike surfaces and pin them back to reveal the innards, which mostly consisted of disgusting rotting guts of self-loathing and fear. (Some not-yets had asked for permission to sit out the dissections, claiming that it was against their religious beliefs. Permission was never granted.)It heartens me that Twitter is not silent about Ferguson, because that is the last thing that is needed right now, but Twitter is, ultimately, a human engine, displaying just as many fears and instances of loathing as it does hopes and truths. Get past the shiny surfaces of bright lies and one thing does remain: we treat those who look different as lesser beings. Long after the civil rights movement and Great Society legislation supposedly made that wrong, it still happens with insidious regularity.I'm tired of turning on the news and seeing a story of some unarmed black person gunned down or otherwise killed, and being horrified, but even more horrifically, not all that surprised.  I have never faced that sort of violent hostility in my life, and I would never intend to imply that anything I've ever experienced even comes close.  But I've faced enough ... racial skepticism, I guess you could call it, so that these stories sadly never surprise me. I'm tired of people telling me that "Karen, you just see these things because you live in the South.  It's not like that anywhere else."  I'm here to tell you, Ferguson isn't the south.  Nor is Dayton, Ohio.  Nor is Dearborn, Michigan.  Nor, nor, nor. I'm tired of worrying about my daughter and other black children of friends of mine, afraid that the world might be no different when they go out into it as teena[...]

Texas: Remembered and Seen


My parents and I used to do the drive I took to my new home in reverse, going from southwest Houston to my grandparents' in Knoxville with the windows down, the Beach Boys, John Denver, or Fleetwood Mac blasting on the tape deck, and my dad venturing to chat with truckers on the CB radio late at night to keep him driving. New Orleans would be bypassed entirely for speed reasons and because Dad didn't like the city, anyway, having only seen Bourbon Street at night between seminars in the daytime at one long-ago convention he attended. It's only taken me 25 years - and another six hours of driving atop that - for me to end up a half-hour away from where I grew up.I'm in a neighborhood with very little street lighting, nearly no sidewalks, and mostly strip malls within walking distance. We are so starved for a good bar in the 'hood, we are grasping at anything; a place only a month old that calls itself a "drinkery" and sports a snarky billboard on its sidewalk that wouldn't be out of place in front of Henry's or the Prytania Bar looks promising to Dan, but I'm skeptical.Get in the car and worlds open, something that hasn't changed in a quarter century of being away from this city. A Twitter personage joked we were in an area with two Wal-Marts within a mile, which is not quite true. As we are at the edge of Swanky Haciendaland, it's more like three Starbucks within that mile. An Alamo Drafthouse is in the area, which has lifted my spirits considerably. I am pulled back to reality, however, by an old family restaurant reminiscent of Golden Corrals & Bob Evans' situated next door to the Critter Fixer Animal Hospital. If the critters aren't fixed, where do they end up?As a kid, local TV ads constantly shilled for businesses on the Eastex Freeway, the Katy Freeway, or FM 1960, which seemed like faraway places to me, as did a Girl Scout camp I attended in New Caney a few times. Now we live near those areas, and they are hopping. Local ads now feature…Lyle Lovett. Shilling for KHOU-TV. It just makes me miss Marvin Zindler.I know Nolan Ryan has always been an Alvin country boy at heart and in fact, but I balk at eating burgers made from "Nolan Ryan's all-natural beef." I'd tempt a giant armadillo with a trunk full of Lone Star beer first. Incidentally, there are craft breweries and brewpubs opening up in the greater Houston area every week, it seems. It makes Lone Star look like Natty Light at this point.Dan is annoyed that Texans don't pronounce it "ya-SEEN-toh" in these parts, which brings out a touch of the dormant chauvinistic Texan in me.*sigh* "It's just 'San Jacinto' here, honey, pronounced like it's spelled.""This city is so cosmopolitan, it's devoid of any identity. Plunk a Houstonian anywhere else in the country and you cannot tell they're from Houston."I point to myself. "Case in point?""Exactly."______________________________Robin Williams' passing has brought many concerns about depression and how society treats its depressed members to the forefront for a New York minute. It makes it worth posting this C-SPAN panel on depression issues that features Mike Wallace, Kay Redfield Jamison, Alma Powell, William Styron, and others. I saw it not long after I began taking SSRIs for my own depression. If more people understood that depression can be lifelong, and if it were treated like any other chronic physiological condition, we'd all be better off. Perhaps our best, brightest, and funniest might be able to stick around for far longer, too.[...]

(Re)Move My Head


This is how my brain works:I reserved a few CDs from the ones I've had to pack recently to play in the wheeled stereo system that is my car (and the boom box in my kitchen), among them the Old 97s' The Grand Theater Vol. 2, which I hadn't listened to in over a year. I threw on the album in the car and itched to listen to the song that first introduced me to the band, the legendary-in-the-now, "Mannish Boy" on alt-country-tinged "Won't Be Home" that was on heavy rotation on WFUV in New York City when I lived in Queens. It wasn't enough to hear it on the internet, because I haven't found a way to hook up my smartphone to my car stereo (it's an iPhone-biased system, it seems, and I have a Droid). I headed to a local shop to see if I could find Drag It Up, struck out, then came across an album while browsing that rang a bell visually for me…Our recent travels up through the Midwest to Iowa for Dan's band performance had us stopping in Chicago for a few days and nights to visit with Dan's old college buddies and their families while taking in a bit of the town. An underground walk through the inner city's downtown had us cropping up near the Chicago River Museum and glimpsing the base of some unusual-looking towers by the water, cars poking out from the kernels of what Dan quickly yet reverently referred to as the "corncob towers" before steering us to the museum. Those same towers poked out of the cover of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album of which the only thing I knew about up to last week was what Greg Kot wrote about it in Ripped, his book about how the digital revolution and the internets were changing the music industry: the account of how Wilco bought its masters of the album from Reprise Records after the company refused to release it as it was and streamed the album away for free via the band's website kicks off his book (understandable since Kot had written a biography of Wilco before Ripped, but Kot's takes on Napster, Radiohead's approach to their music distribution, and Prince leaving Warner Records are interesting and informative). I grabbed YHT and made for the register. I just removed the CD from my car's player, it having been in there all this week. It only took me twelve-plus years to finally listen to it, but it's a powerful piece of work, even if a listener doesn't know a damned thing about Wilco. The timing of its release to the public - digitally, then by more traditional means when the band worked out a deal with Nonesuch Records - probably associates it in more knowledgeable people's minds with the political atmosphere in this country just after 9/11, but it's about far more than that, and I got caught up in it to the point where someone took a good, hard look at me this past Thursday and told me what, deep down, I already knew: I was in mourning. YHT taps into my current uncertainties, my fumbling for what in the hell I'm going to do when I fully join my husband in suburbia after all this moving prep, how I'll be able to negotiate in person the culture shock he's currently suffering that certainly lies in wait for me, the realities of a life we both grew up in and pretty successfully evaded up 'til now. This move, more than any other I've been through to date, is scaring me, and I stumbled upon the soundtrack. This is not to say that we're not a resilient bunch. We will find some way through this, like we always have. I think I now have some inkling, however, of how tied to one place a person can get and of how such bonds bring a body to the edge of where an uprooting could easily lead to heartbreak. I'm not sure, personally, how much more of this I can take, but it [...]

When It Hit…


I was determined. Dan was going to drive into Houston the next day, I'd slept all morning, successfully snoozing away the remains of a headache that had begun the night before, and I was primed to take the wheel and drive us from West Plains, Missouri, all the way back home if I had to be pried out of the car at the end of the trip…which I did, with the help of many music CDs I whipped in and out of my car's player while navigating highway 63's hairpin curves through the Ozarks and cruising down I-55's mostly newly paved lanes.We've road tripped a lot, Dan and I, and I tend to treat the car as though it's a stereo on wheels. Occasionally, Dan will ask me about a particular band or musician whose album I play, and when he does, it's usually followed by a brief criticism. On this trip to and from his band concert in Iowa, The White Stripes' Icky Thump was "pretentious," we both recoiled at the dull lifelessness of Lucinda Williams' West, and Ray LaMontagne's Supernova got some queries about what exactly the man was singing. "Now he sounds like he's singing 'drive-in movies.'""That's exactly what he's singing.""Oh, well then."As I drove over the Mississippi border into Louisiana, I fumbled with the CD carrier in the dark, placing the Daptone Gold album back in and pulling out what I thought was Liz Phair. Instead of "Chopsticks" on Whip-Smart, however, I got "Door-Poppin'," the first song off John Boutté's Good Neighbor. Hey, it's Louisiana already, what the hell, I thought, settling in with songs I realized I hadn't listened to in possibly a year or two. At one time, Good Neighbor had been a constant listen for me, but it sat in the carrier for quite a while before unfolding for me on the road over Manchac Pass.I took in song after song, the ones made famous by HBO's Treme, the plaintive strength of Boutté's take on "Southern Man," the heartbreak of "Showing Up For The Party" that makes "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" sound cheery in comparison, Boutté singing about his sisters, his experiences as a barber and a soldier…but we were over the Bonnet Carré Spillway when these particular lyrics from his sweet, soulful version of Iris DeMent's "My Life" hit me:But I gave joy to my mother.And I made my lover smile.And I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting.And I can make it seem better for a while.We're moving away once we get back to New Orleans. It's really happening. The thought nearly floored me. Eight years on this go-round in a place I loved and how had I spent my time? Did I do all I could do, all I wanted to do, all that I should have done? Would we ever return for more than occasional visits? The strains of Boutté's duet with Paul Sanchez answered back, a laid-back, swinging "Accentuate The Positive" that closed out the album and what had become an emotional experience for me. Never had passing through Metairie made me so farklempt. There was no more music that could be played after that.The homestretch of packing begins tomorrow. My final drive out of New Orleans is in two weeks. I'm thinking of going to take in John Boutté at d.b.a. on his regular night if he's there……but I'll give Good Neighbor a rest. Save it for a time when I'm not driving.[...]

Hello, Houston: A Hate-Love Story


Allow me to re-introduce myself. I've been running for a long while, much of it in place, but fate has conspired to drag me back in close proximity to one of the greater sources of anxiety I've ever known.All this time, I've treated Houston, where I lived for twelve years, as a slice of autobiography, a sliver of the past best left in the past. Which isn't to say it was all bad; in fact, the final two years of my time in the city were great, for the most part. Fact is, I was a child, under my parents' care, and they made the big decisions at the time. The one that had the biggest effect on me was where to send me to school. I understand now they were stuck between a rock and a hard place: Houston public schools weren't the greatest, and my family wanted me to get a Jewish education, so I was sent to fertile ground for some of the nastiest grade school cliques and bullies I've ever known.I met with a friend of mine recently, one of the few friends I had from those days, and she asked me who I thought was the worst. "Boys or girls?" I asked. It didn't matter who. Whether they were guys or gals, they were both pretty damned bad.It didn't help that I was a sensitive kid who got upset with the slightest teasing, then lashed out in anger at whomever was doing the insulting. Most of the time, the punishments came down on me. Honor roll was based on behavior, not grades, so in seven years at this school, I only made it twice.In fifth grade, I walked out of school intending to run away and never come back to the hell I was living. I got as far as the railroad tracks a block or two down the main road. I then turned around and went back to school, walked into the offices, and complained that I was being abused by nearly everyone. I was sent to a psychologist. The other kids found out and made fun of me for it. I went to an appointment with the psychologist after a particularly bad day of being teased and bullied about it and said some things that ensured I never went back to the psych again, ensuring that I have a conflicted relationship with therapy to this day.So, Houston was hellish that way.I found an escape route, though, an unexpected one. And I'm looking forward to indulging it again once we move, actually.A neighbor girl lived on her ten-speed bicycle and encouraged me to ditch the training wheels on the Schwinn I was on (peer pressure, terrible in some ways, can be beneficial in other ways). Once I was on a ten-speed of my own, I flew. I biked all over. Mom thought I was six years too late in learning (she taught herself how to do it at five), but she and Dad let me go wherever I liked. I fished out enough spare change from the powdered chocolate tin on the kitchen counter, biked to a stereo shop a ways down one of the main roads, and fished through their bargain tape bins for albums. I biked to libraries and bookstores and movie theaters. I biked through my middle school years, pretty much.The neighbor girl and I once biked to downtown Houston and back on the bayou trails, a round trip distance of at least twenty-plus miles. We thought our parents would freak out when we got home, because we were racing against the setting sun and losing, but I arrived home, in the dark, to my mother's great news that I got into the arts high school I really wanted to attend. It kicked off my deep love for the visual arts that lingers to this day. My dad still thinks I went into glassworking in part because of the times he and my mom would take me to the Houston Festival, but I always loved visiting the art museums, especially the Menil Collection, the Rothko Chapel, and the Contemp[...]



We'd sing the rhyme, among many others, when we were being bused to and from day camp, all of us settled into our seats (some of us in the best ones at the back, anticipating the bumps in the road that could send them towards the bus roof at just the right moment) and watching the suburbs become the country in the morning, only to view the reverse in the afternoons. It was probably one of the top five bus songs, along with "99 Bottles Of Beer" and "Cheers To The Bus Driver," and it could occupy us for a while if we sang every verse…Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peeeeanut just now, I just now found a peanut, found a peanut juuuust now.I find this song is going through my head a lot right now partly because it's summertime, but also because we're going to do something big and, for me personally, kind of scary. I didn't like where I grew up very much. I didn't like the grade school and middle school I attended. Camp was a source of many of my happiest memories, but the summers were brief and I eventually outgrew camp.It was rotten, it was rotten, it was roooootten just now, it just now was rotten, it was rotten juuuuust now. Ate it anyway, ate it anyway, ate it aaaaanyway just now, I just now ate it anyway, ate it anyway juuuuust now. Got sick, got sick, gooot siiiick juuuust now, I just now gooot siiiick, goooot siiiick juuuust now.Dan's job hasn't been treating him well for a while now. It hurt my heart to see him frustrated with being overworked & denied chances for advancement, so I let him know if he wanted to look at opportunities that would take us away from New Orleans, he could do that. We can still rent out our house here, like we did when we were in Queens for four years. I don't have an occupation comparable to Dan's income-wise that could keep us here. It made sense for him to look elsewhere. I didn't think the search would lead back to my childhood home, though.Just died, just died, juuuust diiied juuust now, I just now just died, just died, juuuust now. Went to heaven, went to heaven, went to heaaaven juuust now, I just now went to heaven, went to heaven juuust now. Kicked out, kicked out, kicked oooout just now, I was just now kicked out, kicked ooooout juuust now.Dan signed the written offer, which is far better than what he was getting here. He gave his boss notice today. He starts the new job in mid-July. We're looking for homes in an area with better public schools so that we don't have to pay out the nose for them. I worry some about how the little guy will handle the actual move, though he seems just fine with it right now. I worry a little bit more about my reactions to it. For 25 years, I left it behind and was pretty happy to do so. Come mid-July, it comes roaring back.Back to Houston, back to Houston, back to Hoooouston juuust now, I just now went back to Houston, back to Houston juuuust now."You shoulda stayed in New York, kiddo," my grandma said half-jokingly when she heard the news. "Full circle, huh?"My mom says to treat it like another great adventure. Which it will be, I'm sure, once I calm down some.My dad's happy because he can check out Spec's when he comes to visit his grandson, and possibly head down to Galveston in the summers like we did when I was a kid.I won't be completely alone. One of the few good friends I actually made in grade school, and reconnected with via Facebook, is still there. Maitri is making room in the New Orleans expats for me, she says. Probably the best part is that we won't be moving into my old neighborhood. That would be too, too much.I think back on it now, thou[...]

Rest in peace, Morwen


It seems I only fire up the ol' blog these days when the news isn't so great. Perhaps when things get better…and my Twitter addiction lessens…'Til then, I go back to the days when I first discovered I wasn't the only one in New Orleans doing this blogging thing. It was early 2007 and New Orleanians were marching on City Hall to demand that, after the murders of Hot 8 Brass Band snare drummer Dinerral Shavers and filmmaker Helen Hill, all of law enforcement put greater efforts into fighting the violent crime that had once again settled on this city like a waking nightmare. I couldn't attend the march, but I could experience it through the posts and pictures of the many people blogging about it. It wasn't until a few months later that I got to meet some of those same people through a Geek Dinner event, among them a certain Gentilly resident (and her significant other Betts) who had been through a lot and who had passionately blogged about it.Morwen at Rising Tide II, photo by MaitriMorwen Madrigal - a bright lady who was inspired to take part of the fictional Anna Madrigal's name as her own when she became, on the outside, the woman she felt she'd always been inside - was interested in the health, happiness, and prosperity of all of New Orleans, which was what led her to become an early organizer of Rising Tide. She didn't want what had happened to her home (and what she was going through to recover from it) to happen to anyone else, and she threw in much of her lot with a fairly motley crew of us blogging folk to raise awareness of these things and put the social in social media in the process.Morwen didn't come to many Rising Tide events after the 2007 conference, though I would still see her on occasion. She and Betts were busy getting their home and their lives together. It was looking like one of the better recovery stories in a place that needed them badly, until Betts took ill and passed away in late December 2010. A group of us went to the house to help Morwen out after Betts' death and saw how much Betts' passing had thrown Morwen for a loop. Doing basic things like cleaning up after her many cats seemed beyond her at the time. A kindly neighbor and NOLA Slate took over looking in on Morwen and alerting the family she had left to her condition. The last time I myself saw her was in early 2011, when I dropped her off at the VA hospital for an appointment. Her final blog post, though it doesn't seem to be appearing now, was in December 2012, expressing her wish that the house she and Betts once shared become a trans compound.Today, Adrastos at First Draft posted on Twitter the news that Morwen is gone. There are no further details yet. Zichron l'vrachah, they say in Judaism when someone has died. May her memory be for a blessing.Her memory is a blessing. But dammit, I wish she were still here.[...]



Truly Suspect No More


Head here to view an enlarged version of the comic above. 

I first posted it in 2009 shortly after it came out. It's well worth reading, as it speaks of the health care dilemmas we all still suffer. It certainly had a great deal of relevance to the cartoonist, Greg Peters, who passed away this morning.

Greg cartooned for Louisiana weeklies for a long time. His Suspect Device comics were wickedly on point about life and politics in this state, especially in the aftermath of 8/29/2005, and it was a disappointment to see them vanish from Gambit's pages in 2010. It was also sad to see his blog of the same name vanish into the virtual ether - in the heady times that were the New Orleans blogging heydays of 2006-2009, Suspect Device the blog was far more than a showcase for Greg's work; it could at times be an angry voice of reason rivaling that of Ashley Morris'. It is only fitting that Greg's graphic work for the Rising Tide II conference on New Orleans' future also adorns the award given in Ashley's name to outstanding local bloggers.

Though I was merely an acquaintance of Greg's, I can say that a man of great intellect and rapier wit was silenced far too soon today. His memory will be a blessing...but I'd much prefer to have had him around a while longer.

It Turned Me 'Round


I'd read a few reviews about the flick, and since it's about one of my favorite bands, I saw Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me last night. My attitude towards this documentary, having read a lot about the band and listened to their three 1970's releases - especially Third - was anticipatory in an arrogant manner born out of possessing just enough knowledge to be dangerous. What can this film tell me that's new about the band, I thought, and how will it re-present what I already know? It's an attitude that can make or break the success of band documentaries meant for the big screen, and a common consideration for anybody undertaking a history of any beloved musician(s). Big Star's story presents some unique challenges, too, as it is probably one of the most lauded bands on the planet this side of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.Nothing Can Hurt Me drove a few things home that will be revelatory to all but hardcore fans, folks like Robert Gordon and Rob Jovanovic, and the people directly involved in Big Star's story, a lot of whom participated in the documentary. Until this film, with the exception of an Oxford American article about Big Star co-founder Chris Bell, the focus has largely been on Alex Chilton's role in the band and his life after it, which is only logical: due to his pre-Big Star Box Tops experience and his fairly public de- and re-construction of musical genres, personas, and roles on his own, he likely figured his part in it spoke for itself without further participation in this documentary. There is a more balanced approach that (hopefully) would have been there even with Chilton's cooperation: interviews with band members, art directors, PR people, Ardent Studios engineers and producers, surviving family members, critics, and members of Memphis' early '70's music and art scene abound. The distribution of Big Star's music fell through some huge cracks in the industry's operations as they were then, and the fallout from that makes for some sad, sad moments.Perhaps it was simply hearing people like the late Andy Hummel, last Big Star man standing Jody Stephens, engineer and Ardent Studios founder John Fry, and Tav Falco speak, but Nothing Can Hurt Me also hit me between the eyes with how southern Big Star and many of the people who tried hard to get their sound beyond Memphis are.* There was something comforting and amazing about that to me that I'm still trying to figure out. For whatever reason, a bizarre mélange of entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and good dose of individuality made something incredible in Big Star's sound that shouts, screams, whimpers, and wails across the decades still - a good chunk of which could well be a last gasp of what had been a southern way of life that was ending fairly violently. It puts the tragedy that was Chris Bell's life and posthumously-celebrated musical genius into even greater relief, in a way.Director Drew DeNicola addressed an observation after the film was shown, agreeing that the people who seem to appreciate Memphis the most, culturally speaking, are outsiders. Perhaps another four decades will pass and then the role early-mid '70's Memphis played in rock and soul will have its own clubs and museums. 'Til then, we've got Nothing Can Hurt Me...which ain't half bad.Update, 8/1: Seems there are a number of music documentaries out right now that are studies of the triumph of the music industry's mighty boot extinguishing some small yet bright creative flames. DeNicola[...]

Oscar Brown Jr. On Citizenship


allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="560">

"What you mean we, white man?"

There's no point in (black people) trying to ingratiate ourselves with these people because we're not...we didn't come here right. We're not in the situation in the right way. We came as a degraded race and were held that way. Even when we were told we were citizens it was not with the freedom that everybody else became citizens. Everybody else who wanted to be a citizen, came, and was naturalized and bought into it. We were just declared citizens by edict, which meant that the slaves had to cast their political lot with the masters!

...My grandfather was born in 1860 in Hines County, Mississippi; he was not considered a person. In 1865, they decided he was a person, and that person was a member of this political organization and all his descendants would then be likewise, if they remained here. Well...that's crap. We're kidnap victims. We were brought here; the country acts like it didn't affront us at all. They act like they owe us no apology and that they bear no blame - that we actually benefited from having been dragged here in chains and having the shit beat out of us. We have been bred to go along with it - we have been bred to be afraid.

-James Porter interview with Oscar Brown Jr., Roctober 1996.

Sadly, with verdicts like the one in the Trayvon Martin case tonight, this looks to be as true now as it was then.

We've still got a long way to go to change this. All of us.

Carrying On Through It All


At 16, I'd hit a strange crisis. Nearly always the too-sensitive misfit all through grade school, I'd managed to make it to high school and reinvent things for myself - new friends, an eye on an actual career in the arts, happiness through music - and then my parents dropped the m-bomb."We're moving," my mom said. And it wasn't an across-Houston move like it had been when I was in second grade. It was an epic move, a culture shock move, a move that couldn't have come at a worse time for me. From huge Texas metropolis to...a tiny central Pennsylvania town. Just before my junior year of high school.The cons: being ripped out of a circle of friends I'd amassed, a school I actually liked, and a city I was getting to know. The pros were difficult to get a handle on at first, but one of them came via that new-to-us portal to the world: pay TV. Though I'd gotten doses of MTV and other channels via my friends' access to cable in Houston (and I was getting earfuls of my mom jumping up and down about "full frontal nudity of men AND women!" on late-night Cinemax among our new bonanza of channels), the true revelations were through MTV I'd watch late into the night the summer before my first day of high school in a new town. Monty Python episodes. Old Monkees episodes. Comedy hosted by Mario Joyner. 120 Minutes. MTV News. That was 1989.The real music explosion didn't happen for me until I went to a pre-college art program in Providence, Rhode Island, the following summer. Making up for lost time and a lack of diploma-worthy credits made for a year without any art classes that left me antsy and anguished, so my family sprung for six weeks on the side of College Hill. Along with the 2D, 3D, and drawing classes came proximity to music clubs (which were off-limits to us, as we were underage - not that I didn't try to go), and easier access to recorded music. Even the college bookstore sold tapes. I was in heaven.Trying to pinpoint exactly when I'd heard of The Stone Roses is tricky. Chances are I'd read a blurb about them in Rolling Stone (or maybe it was this one), saw The Stone Roses cassette for sale in the school store, and picked it up as part of my continuing musical self-education. They were being touted as the band of the rave scene coming out of England at the time, but their sound was bigger than that - especially this classic on the album: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="420">The album was amazing, and I kept coming back to it, all through the Happy Mondays twisting melons, Stereo MC's elevating minds, and Jesus Jones being right there right then...but waiting for the Roses to play in America, or to release new material, proved to be a real-life exercise in waiting for Godot. I resigned myself to listening to the album on my Walkman whenever I could, playing the tape some (but not too much) on the stereo in the glass shop at college as I gathered and worked hot glass, and assuming their edgy glory had dissolved into drug-addled obscurity, their talents having burned so hot they were consumed in the flames.It's taken one weekend for me to get back to high school and the Roses. One book at a different college bookstore has brought it all back and changed how I think about the band. That debut album The Stone Roses, a rock shot in the dark for a teenager like me, was actually a major bridge between The Smiths' m[...]