July 17

What Can’t Be Imagined.

God always punishes us for what we can't imagine. Stephen King

I’ve had a quote running through my head for a couple of weeks now:

God always punishes us for what we can't imagine. Stephen King



While there are lots of reasons I don’t believe that’s literally true, it does seem like the universe is trying to test us at all times, doesn’t it?

A tiny example: it’s hard to imagine it’s been a couple of months since I swore to get back on the writing horse.

The much bigger example can be exemplified by this photo, which came up in Facebook’s “On This Day” :



Like all social media, it is a bit of a selective portrait of this July day in 2013. It was hot, because: New Orleans in summer. QED.  We were watching the Running of the Bulls (NOLA style), and although it was hugely fun as always, he was tired and his knee was hurting.

Still, I look at that grinning face from only 4 years ago and all I can think of is that King quote:

  • With that bright smile full of life in the sunshine, who could have imagined his own light would have receded so far into his own personal darkness?
  • On a day where he was standing tall, who could have imagined that he’d be spending the last many weeks flat on his back in excruciating pain?
  • When making him feel better meant encouraging him with the simple promise of a good beer and po-boy sandwich, who could have imagined a time where nothing I can do helps in any way?
  • In a time where we thought funds were tight because we weren’t going to be able to drive to Florida that summer, who could have imagined that “tight” really means a zillion sacrifices and constant fear?
  • On a gorgeous day spent with so many friends, who could have imagined we’d be so isolated so soon?

I feel like there’s too damn much I can imagine now. I hope that’s enough to keep all the monsters of King’s imagination at bay.


April 19

Suddenly, I’m Paulette Prudhomme


For my whole marriage, I have been the secondary cook. So secondary it’s really more like the relief cook. I did the Italian, and he did pretty much everything else. He’s always been very kind about it, heaping embarrassing amounts of praise on my efforts, to the point where I’ve wondered if he was poking fun at dishes that amount to “various items breaded, fried and smothered.” But he swears he’s sincere.

However, given my druthers, my idea of dinner 9 times out of 10 is “what’s quickest and easiest to clean up?” The first time I had to feed him, I took out a frozen, dump-it-in-the-skillet meat/veggies/starch all in one bag. He was a good sport about it, and only much later on did it occur to me that it’s amazing he wanted another date after that.

Now that time and circumstances have changed, I’m responsible for more of the food procurement. While a LOT of it remains the quick and easy variety, there’s one area where things have suddenly reversed: work.  Also: Crock Pots.

There are many times where work has a “food thing.” Most of the time it’s a fund raiser for the employee charity fund, or the party fund or whatnot. Occasionally it’s something else, but it’s turned into a command performance, and that’s a very new thing for me.

First came the roast beef debris for po-boys for a sandwich day fundraiser. I thought this would be a safe bet, and a little outside of the norm. It was, and it smells amazing…but it was also expensive to make, and set the bar a bit high.

roast beef parts 20160426_131257







Yeah. That was pricey. It went over very well, tho, so that the next time I was asked if I wanted to make it again, I said that I’d think of something else. People acted disappointed, so I swore it would be just as awesome. Then I came up with a New Orleans’ style chicken and rice. It was cold, winter, and hey, it was a comfort dish that didn’t cost too much.

The problem was that it went from this:



To this:



In about half an hour. It was long gone before I even got to my lunch break- and I got no sympathy whatsoever. “Get a bigger crock pot” was the advice given, although someone else commented that “we’ll eat that, too, of course…”

By that time, Mardi Gras was coming, and I’d been a bit (okay, a lot) mopey because I wasn’t able to go home for carnival, and my social media was chock full of friends having fun. Asked what I was going to do about it, I threw my own little Fat Tuesday celebration with King Cake and Jambalaya. It went over a little too well, given that I put a freaking SIGN on the pot in the morning saying “NOT DONE COOKING. DO NOT EAT. RAW CHICKEN AND PORK!” and when I went back to stir the pot, it was already half gone.

Seriously, people? Does no one ever cook for you, that you’d be willing to risk salmonella?

I do have to admit that the food since the move has been seriously on the bland side, so maybe this is all just a cry for help.

The latest was last Friday, when I made a Cajun Porky-Mac to thank a vendor to coming in and helping me when I was slammed. Turns out word has gotten around, and even though I made special arrangements to hide the Crock Pot in a locked office, AND we were having a seperate fund raiser where you got a baked potato bar with all the fixins’ for $2, the locusts found the pot, much to my boss’ annoyance. It was only supposed to be for our department, and she’d been looking forward to leftovers the next day, but whoops! All gone. She held a small interrogation, but no one copped to it and she stayed hangry. Thankfully pork loin is cheap, so I can do that one again pretty easily.

This rather minor bit of food fame has been a little strange- not one bit of it has been Italian, my usual domain. All of it has been made up to one extent or another, and I live in fear, knowing that at some point the law of averages tells me I’ll strike out. I’ve been wondering what these Yankees would make of crawfish, but I think that might be my undoing. Also: expensive.

Truth be told, Mr. P is getting anxious about this, and is starting to want to reclaim his mantle. I once wrote up one of his recipes for Squidoo (R.I.P.), and I’ll have to see if we can convert it to a crock pot-friendly version so the cooking balance can be restored.

Until then, I’ll try to enjoy it and wield my Slap ya Mama cannister with abandon but wisdom as long as I can.


April 8

The Youngest Assistant

Stain & Paint Key

I looked down into the eyes of a miffed young lady as she tugged on my apron. “Well, hello there.” I said cheerfully.

“He,” she said, stabbing a finger toward a coworker who was pointedly avoiding her glare, “won’t let me make paint. He says it’s not allowed, but I don’t believe him because you’ve already let me!”

That got my attention and I examined her more closely. She didn’t seem familiar in her pink corduroy overalls, close cropped hair and deadly serious expression, but it was true that if we weren’t too hectic, I’d invite kids to come back behind the paint  counter and “make” their parents’ paint. Looking around, I didn’t see a grownup who seemed to belong to her, so I asked where they were and what paint they needed today.

She explained that they didn’t need paint of their own, but while her mother was looking at carpets she’d decided she would come over to help at the paint desk because it was a busy day and we had a lot of customers. Trying to contain a grin I told her that I was sorry, but the store would only allow me to make her own paint and no one else’s.

She scowled. “I’ll be right back,” she said, striding off.

A few minutes later she’d returned, a quart of tintable wood stain clutched in her hands, towing her mother in her wake. “I read the sign,” she said, “and we want to make Rosewood color.” Her mother shrugged,mumbling that they kind of needed it anyway, then nodded as I stepped up to the computer and her daughter came around behind the counter.

As I started to type, the girlie cleared her throat. “I want to do it all,” she said, politely but firmly.

“This part you can’t,” I said, unaware that this would be the only battle I’d win against the world’s cutest bulldozer. I entered the data and sent the label to the printer- it was in her hands before my fingers had even left the keyboard.

She tore it oh-so-carefully, peeling it away from the backing and saying, “I’m putting it on the can where it doesn’t block the instructions, see?” I praised her forethought while automatically moving on to the next step, but gasped loudly when a small hand grabbed my boob as it reached for the tool to open the can, which dangled from a leash on my apron.

“I know how to use this,” she said, not registering my surprised chest rubbing. “I made my dad show me. I can be careful.”

“Um, here’s the problem,” I said with genuine nervousness. “Stain is very different from paint- it’s super thin, for one thing. It’ll splash everywhere if we don’t pay close attention.”

Her little face was staring so intently at the can it wouldn’t have surprised me if the lid popped off through sheer force of will, but she asked no questions and made no comment, only bent to her task, carefully prying the lid with the key and spilling not a drop. She looked up and said, “Now it’s the dots, right?” I nodded, impressed, as she maneuvered the can under the tint dispenser, trying to get all three laser pointers to reflect off the tint so she’d know it was properly aligned. The quart sized cans have almost no room for error, and I’d never allowed a kid to even try one, but I stayed quiet and watched her work at it until she’d found the sweet spot.

She exuded determination, and had a slightly odd, clipped way of explaining out loud what she was doing. It could have been offputting, but somehow it wasn’t. She had a piece of work to do, and she was going to do it.

And so she did, shooting the gun at the UPC symbol to start the tint flowing, accepting minimal help to hammer the lid on, working the shaker and taking it out. I congratulated her on a job well done which she took as her due before heading off with her mom.

I looked up to see that the line had gotten backed up and headed toward the next customer but a tap on my shoulder turned me around to find her mom looking furtive.

“Thank you for that,” she said quietly. “I can’t even guess how many times she’s watched that video – totally obsessed.”

“Video?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“It’s silly, I know, but I recorded it with the phone when she helped you the first time because it was so unusual for her to want to talk to a stranger – she’s mildly autistic of course – and you talked to her the whole time, so she knew why you were doing what you were doing. A hundred times, minimum, she’s watched it. Are you a teacher? Because you should be a teacher,” she said before rushing back to her daughter who was carefully examining the lollipop display at the checkout line.

I started to take the next customer’s order but after a few seconds excused myself and darted toward the cashier. It suddenly seemed very important that I find out her name, this little girl whose first visit I didn’t even remember, and whose autism I hadn’t registered, but she was already gone.

March 29

Out the other side of the rabbit hole?


So here we are, 2 1/2 years since I last posted. I’ve tried several different approaches to this and all have failed, so now it’s Gordian Knot time:

The short version is that not long after the last thing I posted, my little world had a big earthquake. I lost myself in the rubble and it’s taken this long to start digging out.

That year brought my husband, Mr. Pixel, several major health crises- a heart attack, then odd behaviors that presaged a “small” stroke- both supposedly 100% recoverable. They weren’t, and after many doctors and false starts, dementia was found to be the culprit. In the midst of this, I was laid off, had my own stress-related health problems, and we decided to move across the country to be closer to his family.

It was a rather full year, and dear god, let there never be another like it.

The new digs.

The new digs.

For a long time 110% of life was stroke rehab, moving and attempts at acclimation. Then came getting the sort of job I’ve never had- physical work in a big box store close to home so I can come on the run if need be. Then surgeries on his knee, the loss of beloved pets, and things got rough. Money was tight. Time was tighter. Guilt grew as patience wore thin- a year and a half of low sleep, high stress and I was really wearing out.

Thankfully, things took a dramatic turn for the better when Mr. P was prescribed Aricept six months ago. It can’t stop or even slow the disease, but it can mask its symptoms for a time and give him back much of what he’s lost. The drug only works for 20% of patients, so it’s been nothing short of a miracle and we’ll forever be grateful.

And yet…

Every day for the last two years I’ve been a little more stressed. A little less connected to myself. No matter what I did, I couldn’t relax or get over the feeling that another shoe was about to drop splat on my head. When I was able to stop focusing on him and thinking about myself a little, I found I was in a very deep depression.

I missed my friends. My garden. My house. Mostly, I missed having my husband the way he was. In short I missed my life.

I’d lost myself along the way, coming to resent our new surroundings- as if they were the real problem. I haven’t done  anything creative in forever- taking time for myself seemed selfish. Couldn’t even find my camera in the moving debris in the house, and writing? That’s a joke. Hell, I hadn’t even read a full book in a year, so the idea of writing seemed ludicrous.

And then...

Last week I searched out a post I’d done when the topic of adult toys (really) came up with a co-worker. And I read a bunch of what I’d written before. And I looked at the pictures. And I remembered who I used to be.  And that other shoe really did drop right on my head: I remembered who I need to get back to.

So here I am. I love my husband, but “caretaker” cannot be my whole life’s description. He doesn’t want that, and never asked for it. I recently asked him what more I could do for him, and he said, “I just wish you were happier.” Clearly, this one is on me.

Hiking and planting and roadtripping, oh my!

Hiking and planting and roadtripping, oh my!

It took far longer than was ideal, but I suspect the best way to start enjoying my new environment is to connect with it. I’m jumping into learning the history and exploring the available weirdness.  It took 2 hours, but I found my camera. Another hour and I’d dug out the charger, too. It took another week to muster the courage, but I’m going to start being at the keyboard, too. In another month there’ll be dirt to play in.

I’m not sure what the new topics around here or on other sites will be, but I’ll find some and hopefully they’ll be interesting and amusing. Work alone gives me enough silly anecdotes to keep me busy; I’m a storyteller at heart, and that’s as good a place to dip my toe back in the water as any.

Thanks for listening, and watch this space.

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September 21

The Mysterious Pentacle on Esplanade Ave

A friend asked what I knew about the mansion on Esplanade that features a stained glass five pointed star at its apex. I was embarrassed to say I’d never noticed this rather unusual detail on the tony Avenue: The property the house stands on was originally part of a Spanish land grant in 1800, and although it was meant to be farmed, the entire block was held by land speculators until after the Civil War, when it was broken into smaller lots. In 1873 steamboat captain J.W. Tobin purchased one of those parcels and built the mansion that still stands today. Born in Alabama, Tobin made his fortune sailing up the Mississippi River to the Ouachita River and into Arkansas- a voyage he undertook every Friday at 5 pm.
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September 2

Invasion of the Slime Monsters

This was something I posted on Squidoo for yet another contest, this one about a “memorable” photo you took. I suppose it says something about me that when I read the rules I knew exactly what I was going to use…


Not the average photo


This lens was written for a Squidoo contest about a photo you took, presumably about what makes it unique and interesting. Most people, surely, selected photos of loved ones, pets, glorious sunsets and sunrises…Mine, too, is one that’s very meaningful for me. It still evokes more of an emotional reaction than just about any of the many thousands of pictures I’ve taken.And it is foul beyond foul. You have been warned: read and scroll down at your own risk

Prologue to a massacre

“She seemed like such a nice lady,” the neighbors said. “Quiet. Kept to herself…”


I was minding my own business, truly. I’d been working on a database project for my website, and had gotten caught up in my nerdishness until 2am when my eyelids would no longer function in the upright and locked position. I saved everything and fell into bed, looking forward to getting up early and making the website functional by evening.(cue ominous music)Seven AM found me with a cup of caffeinated motivation in hand, ready to get to it, but my computer wouldn’t wake up. Rebooting only made it scream in pain, beeping shrilly, leaving only a blank black screen with a flashing cursor in the upper left hand corner. It was as if the Ghost of Computers Past had paid a visit and dropped me back into the long-gone era of MSDos. Phone Googling told me that it was hard drive failure.“Okay, no panicking,” I told myself. “There’s a backup drive, so it’ll be okay.” Feeling pretty good about my self control, I was at the tech store before they opened and back home with my new (bigger & better than the original!) hard drive. Things were looking up!Or were they?

The Autopsy Results

“Murder,” she said.


By the afternoon, I was practically hyperventilating, on the phone with a friend. “They totally laughed at me, Jen! Right in my face!”
To be fair, she was doing the same thing, but at least she wasn’t charging me $75 an hour to do it.
“I told you- Mercury retrograde,” my astrology-minded friend said. “It makes everything technological go haywire. I told you to watch out, didn’t I?”“How am I supposed to watch out for SLUGS, Jen? Besides, they are NOT high-tech! They are foul little demons that are going to cost me a LOT of money!”It was definitely time to panic. When I’d cracked the computer case to install the new hard drive I’d been greeted with slick silver slime trails inside the machine… over the motherboard, the fan, the sound and graphics cards- everywhere. The computer remained completely unresponsive, and things did not look hopeful.Like any concerned parent, I bundled the sick patient into the car and took it to the ER- in this case a neighborhood repair shop, where I proceeded to give the guys a huge belly laugh. They’d never seen anything quite like it.“When they took the board out, the little nasty dried up corpse fell out,” I told her, the image burned into my mind. “It was vile.”The slug had apparently come in under the office side door and decided to explore the first thing it came across- my computer tower. It slithered up inside the vent and got stuck, smootching across everything in circles until its slime short circuited the machine, frying itself in the process. It turns out – who knew?- slug trails are electrically conducive, so everything was wiped out in one fell swoop.

As I described the murder, I went from anxious to angry.

And started to plan revenge.

It was Mrs. Peacock in the garden with the poison…

I took myself down to the garden center with murder in my heart. It was too late for me to exact revenge on the miscreant who’d inflicted this on me, but my anger was for all slugkind and knew no bounds.“Gimme the big guns,” I said.“Lady, are you sure you want to go through with this?” The clerk asked, his voice shaking slightly. My steely gaze told him I was a woman with a mission, and he nervously passed the box over the counter. The Ortho Bug-Geta was tucked in the bag and spirited away to my house, where I poured some on the patio to see how it worked. Now I just had to wait for my trap to be sprung.

It was kinda like this…


Warning: mild, war-film type profanity.

The next thing you see will be…memorable.

And that’s not necessarily a good thing.




In the morning I went outside to see what I hath wrought.

Apparently my house was club-med for slugs! Where did they all COME from? The bait must’ve called them from miles around because they couldn’t have all been hiding out nearby…could they?

I decided I was going to ignore the killing field until my husband came home from his business trip the following day. He could clean up the battlefield. After all, hadn’t I done the hard work? Hadn’t I suffered enough?

No, apparently not, because as the day heated up the smell was enough to knock your shoes off at thirty paces. I had to get a shovel and get to work. I’d counted 250 dead bodies before deciding I just didn’t want to know.

I had thought the one dried dead slug was revolting? So naive. Hundreds of semi-liquified slugs? Now that redefined vile.

As I dropped the garbage bag in the bin with a shudder, a worrisome thought occurred. They’d sent a single slug in to scout. I’d retaliated with brutal efficiency. What if- please God, no- what if they escalated? What if they launched a full-scale invasion? “Perhaps,” I thought, “a protective salt circle around the bed tonight might be a good idea.”


So here we are, finally at the picture that inspired the contest lens. Hope you got a laugh!




September 1

Photograph walks abound!

Still moving stuff over from Squidoo, and it’s easy to see which articles are from their “challenges,” because I just republished “A Photographic Walk Through New Orleans’ City Park,” and all of the related pages start with “A Photographic walk through…”

It’s been surprisingly sad, moving these things, losing their little colorful badges and whatnot- this one got Lens of the Day and a Purple Star. What does that mean in practical terms? Nada…it’s just a pat on the back, and although it’s a silly page I had a lot of fun doing it. The dogs…hard to say.

Dogs-in-the-fountainBruiser, of course, would not go into the water if he was on fire, though he did stage a strike, finding a shady bush while Nipper tried to make a break for it:

Shady nap


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August 25

Squidoo is no more.

I had a bunch of content on Squidoo, which has announced they’re folding. I’m moving most of my stuff over to Hubpages, but there are a few things I did for contests or challenges that don’t really have a wider audience, and I’ll bring those over here. Until the process is done, links may be wonky, but I’m taking care of things as quickly as possible, and intend to get back to writing asap.

It’s been a crazy year, with going back to work in a traditional office-type setting and forgetting just how exhausting it can be, but I’m all adjusted and back on the case. Notes are sketched out for a dozen more hauntings around town and with Halloween around the corner I can’t wait to write ‘em up!

August 18

Why do we stay in New Orleans?

This is an article written by my husband for a St. Louis online newspaper after hurricane Gustav in 2008, posted here as a further explanation for two articles posted on HubPages, one on how to prepare for an oncoming storm, and the other about what it’s like to actually stay, in practical terms.



Less than half an hour after Gustav’s worst winds had passed, our street corner filled up like a stage populated by a director. We had stepped out, past fallen branches and random debris, to meet our good friend Jazz, who lives a couple of blocks down the street. She’d called to announce “I need some fire!” The electricity had gone with the first gusts five hours before and her stove required a jumpstart. Jazz had stayed so she could take care of her elderly uncle Leroy, ailing with diabetes and epilepsy and generally unable to fend for himself. As we talked, three shirtless middle-aged men approached on the side street. We knew them by sight only, though we’d discussed the possibility of getting a neighborhood watch together to keep an eye on crime and communicate during just this sort of emergency. Now the men were working their way up the block, picking up this bit of debris, wiring that neighbor’s broken gate shut, and generally tidying up. “You OK, baby?” Jazz asked the one who seemed to be the leader. “How you doin’?” They’d stayed, hoping to find work in the cleanup phase. The leader pointed to several lengths of aluminum siding that had blown off the house on the corner. “That’s why you have to be careful about who you hire,” he said, before they moved on.

Isabelle saw us chatting and strode toward us. She’d spent most of the storm sitting and drinking with a couple of friends on the porch of her house on the corner. We’d had many long, rambling chats with her in the past: An attractive Frenchwoman of a certain age, she was aggressively voluble and rarely sober. She greeted us with hugs and cheek kisses. “You OK, baby?” Jazz asked. “How you doin? How come you didn’t leave?” Replied Isabelle: “I stayed for Katrina, and I wasn’t going to leave for thees pissant storm.” Looking around, she snorted: “It is nothing.” After a long, heavily accented stream-of-consciousness monologue, she returned to her porch.

Next came Michael, a pale young man with long, curly blond hair, also shirtless — another person we’d seen around but never really talked to. Jazz issued her standard greeting. He told us that he owned a shop in the French Quarter that stocked bronze statuary, fountains, some jewelry, and — he said — Remington paintings. He stayed through the storm because he wanted to be sure his business would be safe in the aftermath.

Here we were, 10 of the estimated 10,000 who stayed in New Orleans. Each of the others had some sort of reason for staying, ranging from concern to defiance. But what was mine? I’d actually been thinking about that off and on since the e-mail from cousin David in Minneapolis. I’d told him we were staying, and he replied: “Well, Charlie, we all trust and hope your choice is correct. As we watch CNN etc, we pray for your safety. God be with you. I hope we have a longer conversation after this passes.”

“That’s condescending,” I thought. But while I hadn’t been watching CNN et al. I could guess the storyline, starting with Mayor Maladroit’s “mother of all storms” outburst: Those fools in New Orleans are in trouble again. I wrote David back, politely explaining that the TV newspeople tend to paint with broad brushes and ignore specific realities on the ground; and that many of us study the storm tracks, computer models and meteorological updates in great detail before making judgments based on our particular circumstances and vulnerabilities. New Orleans is not one risk profile but many; the high ground near the river in the Irish Channel is a world less risky than the Lower Ninth Ward. In any case, this storm looked increasingly likely to hit well west of the city.

I realized later that it wasn’t much of an answer. I also realized I was less annoyed with David, who meant well, than with myself. His implicit question was not how I decided to stay but why, and I hadn’t answered it to my own satisfaction. I’d thought through the execution, but the idea itself came from the gut.

Was I in fact crazy and irresponsible? The question has come up before in the larger context of choosing to live in New Orleans in the first place. When I told a friend back north that we were moving here, she said, “So you’re running away to join the circus?” Right, that’s it exactly.

Sensible people don’t run away to join the circus, but passionate people do. If you don’t share that passion, it can look like lunacy. For example, a few years ago I interviewed with a major corporation. Making small talk, the pr executive who was escorting me through the sleek headquarters in suburban Atlanta asked me where I lived. When I told him New Orleans, he actually stopped and stared. “Why would you want to live there?” he asked. I tried to explain — the culture, with its rich chiaroscuro of joy and sorrow; the food; the people and their sense of community; the architecture; the beauty of the gulf skies and live oaks; the streetcars. He had no idea what I was talking about. I’m not saying that’s why I didn’t get the job, but it was plain that I had lost credibility before the interview even began.

But New Orleans dementia couldn’t be the answer, either. According to the news reports, something like a quarter of a million sensible people left the city, part of a magnificently coordinated evacuation of the entire Louisiana coastal area. Perhaps 10,000 stayed behind in New Orleans.

The question still lingers: How to explain us?




Why do we stay in New
Orleans? Part 2
Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 September 2008 )

According to news reports we heard while battened down in our home for Hurricane Gustav, some 10,000 of us had stayed behind — less than 5 percent of the city’s population. Hmmm, don’t the Hell’s Angels call themselves the 5 percenters? Do we stay because we’re closet outlaws?

I don’t think so. Choosing to stay seems to be a predisposition, subject to reality checking that varies in degree, according to circumstance and the character of the individual. For example, we had planned to stay for Katrina, but changed our minds at 1 a.m. on the Sunday before it hit; television reports made it clear that this was going to be bad. After we returned, we decided that in the future we’d stick it out for anything up to Category 2, or maybe — depending on circumstances — Category 3. For Gustav we started preparing for either alternative four days before the estimated landfall. We made motel reservations in Alabama, and at the same time stocked up on water and made sure the generator was working. We made our decision at the last possible moment, after the 4 p.m. Sunday updates made a persuasive case that we’d be safe.

Of course, that doesn’t get to the “why” of it. I’ve listened to many people explain why they don’t evacuate, read the stories of others — and the obituaries of some who made the wrong call. They seem to fall into five rough, very rough categories. They overlap to some degree, and diligent taxonomists surely could pinpoint more.

The Easies. Many of New Orleans’ residents tend to take the easy way out of a problem: ignore it, sidestep it, persuade themselves either that it will solve itself or that it’s not really a problem. That’s not quite as irrational as it sounds in the Big Easy, a culture with a lot of patience and a high tolerance for living on the margin: Life will provide, and it won’t necessarily cost too much. To this cohort — before August 29,2005 — hurricanes came and went, New Orleans was still standing, so what would be the point of going to all that effort? Katrina pretty much wiped that attitude away in regard to hurricanes. But Easy is still a way of life, and Easies who live on high ground get to practice the old tradition. I saw one in the local supermarket the afternoon before the storm. He was standing right behind me in the checkout line, a thin elderly man with a genially bemused face. His purchases, piled on the belt, included a case of bottled water, a 12-pack of Budweiser, and 20 cans of tuna fish. “These are not government-recommended emergency rations,” he said to no one in particular.

“We’ll drink to that.” It’s no accident that the last businesses to close in New Orleans before a hurricane, and the first to reopen after, are bars. Our first meal after returning from Katrina was hamburgers at the Avenue Pub on St. Charles Ave., so I stopped by early Tuesday morning. Sure enough, Polly had flung her doors open Monday afternoon, even as winds were still gusting and Mayor Ray Nagin was threatening to jail curfew-breakers. Moving on in search of a place to plug in my laptop — power had been out since the first breezes — I wound up at Buffa’s Lounge on Esplanade, just across from the French Quarter, where I got into the spirit of things by ordering a bloody Mary with my breakfast. In both places the customer mix included a bunch of first responders getting off their shifts, but most patrons were everyday citizens doing what they like to do best, socializing and drinking.

During the storm we’d looked out the front at one point and observed three neighbors sitting on the porch across the street corner, shouting over the wind to each other as they sipped their beers. Like the rest of their peers here, they don’t need an extraordinary event to start imbibing, but they relish the drama that such an event brings to the job.

Protectors of the castle. Looters rampaged through the city during Katrina, and many people expected a replay with Gustav. Yes, we were assured that the police would be here in full force this time, along with some 1,500 National Guard troops and MPs. But history has taught us that it’s not always the best idea to trust the official word. The most skeptical and cynical loaded their pistols and shotguns and hunkered down. Even among those of us who stayed for other reasons, this was a secondary or tertiary consideration. (Still, I own a shotgun now, something I never would have considered in the past.)

In any event, the police and Guard were indeed on the job, and the city was stunningly calm. Maybe next time there won’t be as many protectors.

Caretakers. They’re here from a sense of duty. Some, like our friend Jazz, stay to help family or friends who can’t care for themselves and can’t or won’t evacuate. Others have a wider caretaking horizon. Ed McGinnis, the president of our Irish Channel Neighborhood Association, grew up with one. His mother, a nurse, wrestled the Red Cross to the ground during Hurricane Betsy in the 1960s, when the agency tried to stop her from her “unauthorized” efforts to aid the dazed and injured; and she died of a heart attack while tending to people during Katrina. Ed wanted to make sure his house was OK. But more important, he stayed to keep an eye on the neighborhood and help people stay in touch with each other. And though his employer hadn’t asked him to stay, he wanted to be available if needed at the plant. As it turned out, he was.

Finally, there are those I call keepers of the flame. Their loyalty is to the idea of the city — its soul, you might say. At its most extravagant, this group embodies the truly lunatic New Orleanian, the romantic whose passion for the city runs to such anthropomorphic extremes that leaving her behind in times of danger is like abandoning a spouse or child.

There’s a bit of this loyalty in many of us who stay primarily — or ostensibly — for other reasons. I finally figured out that this is my crowd. I’ve lived here only six years. But New Orleans felt like home even when I was still a serial tourist, and the feeling has only grown as I immersed myself more deeply in its culture, its community, and its passions. I haven’t felt so connected to a place since I was a kid.

The tipping point was Katrina, or more precisely its aftermath. Before, centuries of essentially feudal misrule had made “civic activism” an oxymoron. Politics was a spectator sport, entertaining and amusing for its extravagant shamelessness. After Katrina, it wasn’t funny anymore. Now an ever-growing crowd of citizens is involved in everything from cleaning streets to participating in community-based planning and attacking the old political machines. Groups of people are working to hold City Hall accountable and build support for citizen initiatives. We’ve kicked out some bad politicians and have our sights on more. We got major reform legislation passed in the state legislature, including the creation of professional levee boards and an overhaul of the city’s corrupt property assessment system.

Karen Gadbois, one of our great activists, describes this phenomenon eloquently: “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.” I’ve been only a small player in this movement, but it’s changed my relation to the city: I ran away to join the circus and ended up working for the revolution. And it’s given me, like so many others, a bigger stake in the dream. New Orleans’ future is still uncertain, but we are deeply invested in protecting and nurturing it.

It sort of makes you want to hang around when the chips are down.

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September 12

Marie Laveau’s Family Ties

MarieLaveauTitleI’m working on a Hubpage about Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, and having a surprisingly hard time with it. I know I need to tell the story of her legend- that’s what people want to hear, particularly with her playing a major part in this season’s American Horror Story, currently filming in New Orleans.

There are so few actual facts and so many stories that honestly seem like somebody said “let’s see if we can get ‘em to buy this one!” It’s depressing, especially since reading Carolyn Morrow Long’s book on Marie- the only fully researched book I’ve found, full of contextual information that really provides a historical perspective.

Still, I spent days banging my head on the desk, trying to untangle how to make the various stories about her (pretty much none of which were true) into a coherent story and failing until a friend kicked my butt. Once I stopped trying to make a coherent tale of the mess, it came together quickly.

So far, it’s been well  received, despite being a bit of a voodoo buzzkill. On the other hand, I finally went to the neighborhood hoodoo shop and will get to tell a broader story about New Orleans’ tangled history with the beliefs.

There were lots of interesting things in the newspaper archives, many of which were eyeroll-inducing, including a rather snotty article from 1922 called “Marie Laveau, Long High Priestess of Voudooism in New Orleans. Some Hitherto Unpublished stories of ‘Voudou Queen.’”

Carolyn Morrow Long refers to this piece in her book saying they were ‘hitherto unpublished’ because he’d just made them up. I choked I was laughing so hard, and if I hadn’t loved her book before then, I sure did afterward!


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