Wednesday, December 28, 2005
This is a huge loss for Chicago, especially for those of us that earn our living in the Loop. Berghoff's has been a major business lunch venue for over a century. It was famous for cranky waiters (although their demeanor became more pleasant about 10 or 15 years ago). The Berghoff is famous for wiener schnitzel, creamed spinach, apple strudel and other German dishes. It is also famous for its 18th century vibe and tasty "home-brewed" beer. Losing the Berghoff is like losing the Sears Tower. Our city won't be the same.
It is impossible to guess how many deals were sealed over lunch at this grand old establishment. Until the early 1980's, the Berghoff had a classic "men's bar" full of beer-drinking, sandwich-eating male executives and blue collar workers. This side business fell victim to political correctness - women were allowed in, the business adjusted, and the bar continued to thrive as a co-ed establishment.
I had lunches and dinners with my wife at the Berghoff when we were dating in the late 1980's. I took my brother to the Berghoff during the Christmas season to show him why the holidays in Chicago were superior to the weak effort put on by Portland Oregon. Every fall, the Octoberfest party thrown by The Berghoff became more entertaining and elaborate.
Some businesses transiton from simple commercial enterprises to civic institutions. The Berghoff is one of Chicago's leading civic institutions. I am praying that someone will convince the family to pass the business on to someone who will honor its heritage.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Have you ever discovered that your fervent desire for a particular outcome was wrecking your entire life?
I saw a good quote today:
As we survey Jewish history as a whole from the vantage
point of the late twentieth century, Judah Halevi's phrase
"prisoner of hope" seems entirely apposite. The prisoner of
hope is sustained and encouraged by his hope, even as he is
confined by it.
--Jane S. Gerber (Editor), The Illustrated History of
the Jewish People
This quote relates to Jewish history, but really applies to the human condition in general. To break out of our "prisons," we sometimes need to lose hope first. But the misery caused by abandoning hope is so agonizing, we hang on to our hope – and stay in our prison. A woman hopes for love, so she stays in the prison of a bad relationship. The Palestinians hope for nationhood so they stay in the prison of suicide bombings and self-destructive behavior. And so on.
OK, I am over-working this simple phrase.
Does "hope" fall in the same category as "faith?" Does it require belief without proof? Does it require willful disregard of facts? Is it a blessing or a curse? Or is it both?
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Letter to America 12-16-05
Since my exile from my home late in August 2005, I’ve been adrift on dry land. Bunking up with family and friends -- near and far from New Orleans. Relying more than I ever thought I would on the kindness and generosity of people across the country. And in that process I’ve talked to a lot of people about New Orleans. People in stores, people in restaurants, people everywhere. And I’m rather disturbed by what I hear from Americans.
It’s true; Americans have been very compassionate about the terrible trauma I’ve experienced. You empathize with the horror of my losing my house, most of what I own, and so many aspects of my life all at once. And you want me to know that your doors are open to me any time I might need a place to stay. You are generous to a fault when it comes to providing relief from this disaster. And speaking on behalf of all New Orleanians, we are grateful more than words can express for your generosity in the face of this disaster. Really and truly we are.
But the mood notably changes when we start talking about rebuilding. I get the distinct impression you’re not interested in rebuilding New Orleans. Some folks say it gently and others are more direct. But I get the overwhelming sense that Americans think New Orleans should not be rebuilt. That New Orleanians were just foolish to build a city on a flood plane. That we should stop fighting nature and learn to live with nature. That Louisiana politicians are corrupt and can’t be trusted with large sums of money. That the country can’t afford to “bail us out.” That we’re inappropriately looking for a handout.
So tonight I write this letter to America. Many of the direct recipients of this letter may not have thought these thoughts, but you’ve probably talked to someone who has. So I hope you will share this letter far and wide.
You see rebuilding is not just in the interest of New Orleans. It’s in the interest of America. First, and perhaps most persuasively, it’s in America’s own economic self-interest to rebuild New Orleans.
The cost to America of not rebuilding New Orleans will be gigantic. The Port of New Orleans has always been key to the nation’s economy and for that reason to its security. This is the largest port in the nation by tonnage and the fifth largest in the world. Essentially all of the agricultural commodities from the Alleghenies to the Rockies are shipped on barges through the Mississippi’s tributaries, down the Mississippi itself and eventually loaded onto seagoing ships at the port of New Orleans. And an even greater tonnage of raw materials from around the world is shipped up the Mississippi to support our industrial sector. Think coal and steel, not to mention crude oil.
There is no cheaper way to ship these products. If the port of New Orleans stops functioning or even reduces its capacity, our exports become less competitive and our imports become more expensive. How much are you willing to pay for your heating oil, gasoline and groceries? Feel free to do a cost-benefit analysis on that one. [To learn more about the economic repercussions to America of not rebuilding New Orleans read this article by Dr. George Friedman, geopolitical expert.]
New Orleans has to be situated exactly where it is to be a viable port. If it were farther downstream it would be more flood prone. And if it were farther upstream (and, therefore, less flood prone), then seagoing ships would not be able to reach it. So yes, New Orleans is on a flood plane. But such is the nature of the beast. And such, by the way, is the nature of modern civilization. Which one of you “lives with nature?” You live in houses with heating and air-conditioning, do you not? And, in fact, did you know that FEMA spends more on snow-related emergencies than on any other kind of disaster? Now what are you people doing living up there in sub-freezing temperatures? And why did Chicago reverse the course of the Chicago River? Look it up.
Clearly none of us are “living with nature.”
But, you think, New Orleans is not just flood prone. It below sea level. This is craziness. Well, to clarify, not all of New Orleans is below sea level. Only roughly 2/3 of New Orleans is below sea level. The oldest portions of the city (for example, the French Quarter and the Garden District) are above sea level. And not surprisingly these did not flood when the levees broke. But even some parts of New Orleans that are at or above sea level did flood when Katrina struck. (For what it’s worth, my neighborhood is at sea level and it got 5 feet of water because of storm surge up a canal. The difference between my neighborhood and others is that the water did not stand for weeks in my neighborhood. But this is small consolation. If you’ve ever had a house flood, you know its very destructive even if the water doesn’t stand very long.)
So those parts of New Orleans that are at or above sea level are going to be prone to flooding and are going to need levee and wetland protection. But hopefully its clear by now that this port city is essential to our economy and worth some investment in flood protection in order to benefit our entire country.
Now, its true we could reduce the size of New Orleans, and all start to live more densely on what’s now often referred to as “high ground” so as to reduce the cost of protecting New Orleans. And in the end, I suspect that will happen whether we like it or not. But I think that Americans should recognize that if we do this we are making a sacrifice that most Americans are not willing to make, and one that we will quite naturally go down bitching about.
You see New Orleans grew beyond its original high ground area through a process of urban sprawl that all Americans have become quite accustomed to. It was highways as much as levees that drew New Orleanians to build homes in areas below sea level. Areas that afforded them larger lots and room to breathe. Imagine if you would that one day a tornado or earthquake were to wipe out the highway that you use each day to drive from your suburban home to your work place. And then the government tells you they’re not going to rebuild that highway. They suggest that you just move into a condo closer to work and live more densely as all of us should to reduce urban sprawl. You’d probably start screaming for the highway to be rebuilt. Well, that’s what New Orleanians are doing right now. As I say, in the end I think the city will shrink due to some natural attrition and most of us will end up living on high ground. But remember, when that happens, that those of us who are staying are giving up something that most Americans consider their birth right. And even still, we’re gonna need some levees and restored marshlands.
Now let’s talk about culture for just a second. New Orleans must be rebuilt (in some form or fashion) because it is the seat of the vast majority of indigenous American music and culture and the only place where this culture is fostered and cultivated. Its true that the Diaspora of New Orleanians around the country cannot be entirely reversed. New Orleanians have now gone forth and are teaching people all around the nation how to cook, and dance, and make music, and enjoy themselves. But New Orleans culture needs New Orleanians en mass and New Orleans institutions to foster it. Ever since African slaves were first brought to America, New Orleans was the only place where they were allowed to congregate. And thus, they maintained their African customs including drumming -- and eventually from this Jazz was born. This continues today as New Orleans musicians gather to share musical styles and techniques.
And as another example of the need for New Orleanians in New Orleans, think of the other cities that have tried to replicate Mardi Gras. As far as I can tell, all have failed as drunken crowds lapse into lawlessness and mayhem. New Orleanians model playful yet appropriate behavior for tourists. And our police know how to manage a crowd such that thousands of people can be dancing and many drinking in the streets and no one gets hurt. We do it at festivals and second line parades almost every weekend of the year. We have lots of practice at it. New Orleans en mass and New Orleans institutions are essential to the fostering of New Orleans culture.
OK. So let’s talk about corrupt politicians. Louisiana politicians may be famous for their corruption, but this by no means makes them the most corrupt politicians in the land. Anyone hear about Tom Delay being indicted for conspiracy to illegally funnel corporate money to state campaigns? Remember Dan Rostenkowski? Help me out here. Name your favorites. Don’t be shy.
Anyone hear about the no-bid contract that Haliburton got to provide hurricane relief post-Katrina? Did that one strike you as fishy? I don’t mean to defend Louisiana politicians. They are as corrupt as any. But lets face it. That’s the way of the world. So what standard has been used to determine that Louisiana politicians’ level of corruption is so bad that they cannot be trusted with funds? Is it simply the infamy standard? The reputation standard? Well, I don’t know the man personally, but I’d be willing to vouch for Mayor Ray Nagin. We might have criticisms of his leadership right now, but as far as corruption goes, or even seeming impropriety, his record is almost spotless. Its a shame that of the billions of dollars spent so far on hurricane relief only a few hundred million have made their way to the City of New Orleans and the vast majority has been squandered by federal agencies with huge administrative overheads. (Feel free to look that one up.)
And here’s my last argument for why New Orleans should be rebuilt. Because we said we would. Indulge me once again by imaging for a second that you are suddenly and unexpectedly ejected from your home by a disaster of some sort. Perhaps terrorists drop a dirty bomb on San Francisco. Or there’s a huge chemical spill on your city's water source. You are not prepared for this sudden departure so you scramble to find housing that will allow you to enroll your kids in school somewhere-- and if possible, continue your work. But likely you have to make some compromises to accomplish these disparate tasks. Maybe your kids are in school in one state with your spouse and you are in another state at a temporarily relocated job. Suddenly you are stressed to the max trying to pay rent on one or two new places along with your mortgage back home, and all sort of unexpected expenses associated with this sudden move. And imagine that every time you talk to your children, they tell you how they ache to go home and see their friends. Meanwhile you miss your friends and family, too. You’re getting a little help from the government and you’re grateful for that. Because your spouse can’t find work in the place where your kids are in school. And housing is scarce, too. But you’re thinking that this can’t go on forever and you’re wondering what your next move should be. Then the president comes on TV and he says your city will be rebuilt.
Well, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people floating around the U.S. right now in just this state of limbo. People sleeping on couches of relatives or friends. Hurricane-fractured families who can’t afford to quit the one job they have so all members can be together Parents aching to see children. And children aching to see parents. Wanna talk to a few? I know several. And they’re people just like you and me. And they’re distraught. And they can’t all just be absorbed in other cities. Heck, Texas is so eager to repatriate evacuated New Orleanians, they’re paying for one-way tickets back to New Orleans or to anywhere outside of Texas. And Louisiana has no more housing available, so FEMA is trying to ship evacuees currently in hotels to apartments in other states. There is nowhere for these hundreds of thousands of evacuees to be absorbed.
Families are hanging in there. But just barely. The mental health crisis is enormous. One city councilman said, "For everyday that we don’t rebuild the city, another person commits suicide." He’s not far off.
For those of you who don’t have a big bleeding heart like me, think dollar signs. Think port. Think cost-benefit. Let’s not cut off our nose, to spite our face.
And finally, let’s talk about inappropriate handouts. We here in Louisiana have said, we don’t need any handouts. Just give us 50% of the royalties on the oil and gas that is generated off our coast, just like you do for all the other states where oil is produced, and we’ll take care of our levees and coastline ourselves. In fact, we have been pushing to get these royalties to restore our wetlands since way before this storm. (You can check this out on Senator Mary Landrieu’s web site.)
Why don’t we get this money now? Well, some legal hairsplitting and political hanky-panky some years ago and... here we are with no royalties. And now the feds are saying they don’t want to give up the $3+billion that would be our share of our royalties. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? They would rather keep our royalties, but dole out handouts to us. Hmmm.
You say, Bush just announced $3 billion to rebuild our levees. Well, that’s just a drop in the bucket. It won’t do anything to make the levees withstand a category 4 storm like Katrina. And it won’t do anything to restore our coastal wetlands, which is arguably more important than the levees to protect the city. But with a steady stream of $3 billion in oil royalties each year, we could finance all the restoration we need. And just to put things in perspective, did you know that our defense budget is upwards of $400 billion each year? America can easily afford to rebuild New Orleans. In fact, give us equitable oil and gas royalties, and Louisiana could finance it ourselves.
So. OK I’m wiped out now.
New Orleans needs to be rebuilt for all of our sakes. And we can afford to do it.
Meanwhile there are about 100,000 of us in New Orleans. Bunking up with one another. Friends housing friends. Families taking in other families. Working harder than I’ve ever seen any group of Americans work. Trying to keep this city -- and each other -- alive. And if you come down to visit, you can count on lots of conversation about home repairs, as well as lots of great food, incredible music, and endless dancing. And we’ll make sure you have an amazingly good time. Because that’s what we do. We believe in love and giving and joy. We believe in life. That’s New Orleans.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Frank Rosolino is a name that means a lot to jazz trombonists. He had incredible skills and the poured his giant Italian soul into the sliphorn. His playing rippled and sang. He did things that I thought could not be done on the trombone. As a high school trombone player, he was one of my heroes, along with J.J. Johnson. Since I grew up out west and Frank was a west coast guy, I got to see him play a few times. These were hair-raising experiences for me.
Rosolino was also a famous cut-up. He loved to get people laughing, and he was a wicked practical joker, victimizing and delighting his bandmates with his crazed antics. He was a caricature of the hyper-cool bebopper.
Well, even top knotch jazz trombonists scuffle to make a living. It is not an easy career path. In the 1970's, Frank had crafted a livlihood as a recording session man in LA, most notably backing up the Charlie Parker tribute band, SuperSax. But some terrible things began to happen, and Frank began to blow a tube. Frank's third wife, mother of his two sons, went into the garage one day, slipped a hose into the exhaust pipe of her car, ran it into the passenger compartment, started the engine and sat there to be poisoned by carbon monoxide. Frank apparently blamed himself for her suicide. And in late November, 1978, he lost it - he killed one son, seriously injured his second son, then killed himself. The insanity - he shot his kids so they wouldn't have to live without parents.
They say that dysfunction and psychopathic behavior thrives among gifted musicans. I haven't seen statistical studies backing this up, but the list of addicts, suicides, and antisocial behavior among musicians is very long indeed.
Rosolino was about 52 when he killed himself. I am 51. I don't play the trombone anymore......
Friday, December 16, 2005
In Evanston, the big disasters didn't hit us, so we made do with small disasters. The murder of Linda Twyman - stabbed to death in her own home - shook the town in early December. Who did this craven act? Why haven't they been run to ground? What was their motivaton? The police are tight-lipped; the case isn't solved and the community is edgy. My wife talked to the outreach officer (a large man with battle scars on his face). He said not to worry, and was glad to hear that we have dogs that bark at every person that steps foot on our property. He is also coming by our house to do a "security check." We are all in a kind of war zone now.
But I am not complaining! No, on the contrary, I feel like I haven't suffered enough. I am trying to fend off survivor guilt. My family has been untouched, my property has not been flooded, I have faced no insurgents. My life is one long roll in the clover. Lucky me; guilty me.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Linda Twyman's murderer is still at large. The news flow in Evanston has stopped. My wife, Connie, is going to attend a community briefing tonight; a police detective will speak. We couldn't face Linda's funeral - I am a bit ashamed that I stayed away on Sunday. I couldn't stand the flood of grief that would wash over the mourners.
My reaction to grimness and tragedy is to play music. I did a 3-tune set at the Harlem Avenue Lounge in Berwyn last Friday. Joe Filisko hosted the Old Town School of Folk Music blues harmonica recital at the slightly seedy bar. It was a raucous affair, complete with dancing girls that jumped on the stage as we stomped through "Mustang Sally."
I went to Filisko's harmonica class at the Old Town School last night. Attendance was down a bit - the cold kept some folks home, I think. We spent quite a bit of time talking about the recital. We are back to studying Big Walter Horton's fabulous "Boogie" tunes. There is always something for a harp plyer to learn from Big Walter.
I am running the jam at Bill's Blues Bar in E-Town tonight. I don't expect a big crowd to struggle through this bone-cracking cold to play the blues. Given local events and the weather, there are lots of reasons to have the blues right now.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Linda was a kind-hearted single mom that struggled to pay the rent and raise her daughter. She wasn't a rich person - Linda didn't own a car when we knew her. She sent her daughter (now 20 years old)to the local Catholic school even though she didn't have much money for tuition. Her ex-husband moved to Oregon, so she was really on her own as a single parent. She loved to travel and became a travel agent in order to incorporate that passion into her work life. Linda was a lovely, "normal" person who worked hard to have a decent life. She was always on the early train to her job in downtown Chicago. She had a smile for everyone she met. Her boyfriend is serving in the National Guard, currently posted to a base in Wisconsin.
The Evanston Police haven't announced any suspects. It may be an act of random violence - quite unsettling for all of us in the neighborhood (Linda's apartment is a five-minute walk from my house; my wife is opening her art gallery around the corner from Linda's building). So the tragedy is increased by this feeling of fear and uncertainty - what type of evil beasts would do this and where are they now?
Linda had many friends in this community. She is mourned, and we are wary of strangers now.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
I was watching the door while the proprietor hit the men's room, taking cover charges. My old friend, "Duke," crossed the street and came to the door. We go back over seventeen years; we worked at the same company for eight years. He is a good man, a family man looking after a brood that includes a son with "special needs." And as he walked into the joint with his four buddies, I could tell that he was toasted. I also remembered that, for the past couple of years, Duke has been toasted everytime I have seen him after 7:30 p.m. Duke greeted me enthusiastically and called for drinks. He set up shop with his friends at the back of the club. Over the course of the next ninety minutes, Duke got deep into his cups. I looked up from my conversations with neighborhood acquaintences to see Duke hitting on younger women (in spite of their horrified reaction to his drunken state) and watched him flail about on the dance floor.
The Chief ended his fabulous set of blues and retro rock and roll at about 11:30 p.m. After the band left the stand, Duke decided that he needed to make an announcement over the P.A. system. He staggered up on stage and turned to face the audience, clutching a microphone. He started to speak. He swayed. Then - BOOM! - he fell backwards into the drum kit, upending cymbals, snare and tom-tom. Duke is a big man - six foot five and about 250 pounds, I would say - so it was hard to pull him to his feet. It took three of us to get him untangled from the drums and off the bandstand. I grabbed the designated driver in Duke's posse and told him to get the guy out of the club and to his house in the 'burbs. So Duke essentially got bounced out of the blues club for being a drunken idiot. I am sure he woke up this morning with no recollection of his tumble - he was working on an alcoholic blackout last night.
As I pulled at Duke's arms, trying to get him off the floor of the stage, he looked up at me. The look in his eyes chilled me - the look of a desparate, lost person. I left the club shortly after Duke was hustled away, and slipped into bed next to my lovely wife. I couldn't sleep - couldn't sleep. Yes, Duke has slipped into a bad state; he needs help for his alcohol abuse. And I thought about my own consumption of booze, and the way it pervades most social settings that I frequent.
I stayed away from all forms of alcohol today.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
I hosted the blues jam at Evanston's local blues club on Tuesday. The house was full, and a few musicians didn't get to play - they were pissed off. Being the jam host is a pretty thankless job. I refuse to let anarchy reign on the bandstand, so some folks don't like me. Hey, I can live with that.
My extended family celebrated Thanksgiving early this year - my adult son was in town for a visit last weekend, so we hosted 23 people to dinner last Saturday night; turkey and the trimmings. I am the cook on Thanksgiving and I smoked a 27 pound "free range" turkey on the Weber grill. Our dinner tonight will be roast beef - we have been eating turkey every day this week and we need a change.
As I fiddle around my kitchen cooking turkey soup and reading recipes, I realize that I am living a privileged life. My dear Mexican-American wife sometimes refers to our situation as "a cushy white-ass life." She is correct. We are distributing some desserts to the local soup kitchens today, but that is a pittance, a symbolic gesture. I am not sure whether I am feeling gratitude or guilt for my fortunate circumstances.
Monday, November 07, 2005
The quality of the Mystery Band set was mixed – we had a couple of special moments, but I fumbled a few things. The best moment came when my bass player, E.G McDaniel, surprised me by kicking off the O’Jays tune, “For the Love of Money.” Mr. G and the Mystery Band had never played this tune before, but I said, ”Yeah! Let’s do this thing.” It worked very well, and the crowd went wild. So this tune is now in our set. Generally, I think we should do more R&B. I ain’t no soul singer, but with a band like the Mystery Band, we can pull it off.
I also stayed late at the Morseland to hear the hip-hop set, and my eyes were opened. A white guy fronted a live hip-hop group. I could only make out every 4th word he was saying, but he was good. And his band was awesome – acoustic bass, keys, guitar drums and sax/flute. I have never heard jazz flute combined with a rapper before – it sounded extremely cool and fresh. The band "sampled" Clifford Brown and Coltrane rather than snipping stuff from the R&B guys. The rapper’s name is Verbal Kent. I now have a new interest - finding the quality in the world of hip-hop. It ain't all about 50 Cent and his gangsta hoo-hah.
It was a long night, but a fine night. It was a great mix of music.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Sunday, October 30, 2005
The 2005 White Sox took off like a rocket - a 15 game lead at the beginning of September! Of course, none of the long-time Sox fans believed that this could continue, and it did not. The lead shrank to 1 1/2 games by the end of September. But the collective spines of the Sox stiffened and they won the division. Then real magic began - The World Champion Red Sox - swept out in 3 games; the former World Champion Angels - handled in 5 games; and the "never done nuthin" Astros - swept in 4. So Ozzie Guillen and his crew - Konerko, Dye, Podsednik, Crede, Garland, Garcia, Jenks, Uribe, and, yes, even Geoff Blum - have made all White Sox fans deliriously happy and connected to each other.
Why do we care about baseball or any team sport? Here is my theory - humans are gregarious creatures that crave community. We have organized in large urban mobs that make it hard to connect and love each other. Baseball teams (and football and basketball) are our proxies for the large extended families we all want. After the Sox became world champs, I could join a large family here in the Chicagoland area simply by wearing my Sox cap. Strangers smile at me and we have shared experiences that we can speak about together. White, black, Latino - we are family when we talk about Uribe's dive into the stands, Konerko's hitting, Dye's sterling offensive and defensive play. Yes, sports are a blessing to humans.
Friday, October 21, 2005
"Sunday Oct 16th
As soon as I crossed into northern Mississippi, hours north of New Orleans, there were scores of trees down all along the highway and dozens of crews working to clear them. About two hours north of New Orleans, the green highway signs were bent over backwards. I had to whip my head around to get a glance at them upside down after passing them to identify my exit.
When I exited the highway, still an hour and a half north of New Orleans, most of the buildings from Poplarville to Covington had "blue roofs." That's the term for the tarps FEMA is stringing across the holes in people's roofs. until you can get a roofer to your house to fix it. Waiting for the roofer may take weeks. Waiting for FEMA can take almost as long. Lots of folks are risking the roof walk to strap up the huge blue tarps themselves.
Telephone lines were down across the road. Crews everywhere working to restore this and that. But the most shocking thing for me was arriving at Paula's in Covington. This beautiful home in a lovely wooded setting now looks like a logger's camp. Dozens of trees are down. Tractor tracks all over the yard where clearing of fallen trees has taken place. Paula assured me, "This looks like a natural disaster. New Orleans looks like a very unnatural disaster."
The next morning Paula accompanied me into New Orleans. Valerie and Alice were already at my house. Valerie wanted to be sure I would not see it for the first time by myself.
I took a route boarding the Industrial Canal, an area that never was very pretty. Now it was quite a bit less pretty and rather deserted.
My neighborhood was quite deserted. We pulled in front of the house. There was a huge pile of garbage out front. But the house had on it a colorful, handwritten sign that said, "Welcome home, Allison. Love, your house." Clearly the handiwork of Valerie and Alice.
The shutters were all flung open. I walked up the steps and my office was stripped bare, the floor covered in dust, and some of the sheet rock wall already torn out. This did not look like my house. This looked like an amazing architectural gem of a house in an abandoned town. A house that itself had been abandoned, but its mantle pieces, hard wood floors, and cypress columns were still stunning. "Somebody ought to fix this house up. What an amazing house," I kept thinking.
My friends had spared me the greatest shock. By arriving days before me, and stripping out as much moldy stuff as they could, the house didn't look like mine. It wasn't my house that sat there in ruins. Just this gorgeous architectural gem.
Alice, Valerie, and Paula watched me wander through the house, worried looks on their faces. But it wasn't till I opened one of the bathroom cabinets and saw my stuff in there. That's when the shock started to set in. I recognized this stuff. It was my stuff. What was it doing here????
Oh. this is my house.. and it was a mess!
I didn't know where to start. My toiletries were in a heap of mold at the bottom of the cabinet. Should I try to wipe each off? Throw them out? Leave them? What was I supposed to do?
Valerie gave me instructions. "Allison" she said gently, "the next step is to start wiping the mold off the antiques. We've carried them all out to the driveway. They look largely salvageable. Some will definitely need some expert care. But the next thing we need to do is to wipe off the antiques."
So I started.
I've been working on the house for 4 days now, usually with Valerie, sometimes with other friends. And everyday the garbage pile in front of the house has gotten bigger. What was I able to salvage? Well, look around your house at everything that is at least one foot off the ground. Most of this I was able to salvage. Most of my books, CDs, and clothes. (Although the clothes have required multiple washings with ammonia to get the mold smell out). My shoes are history as is all my upholstered furniture.. My mattresses and pillows must be tossed because of mold spore contamination, but my bedding is largely salvageable because it can be washed. My artwork, my knick knacks, dishes, and some pots and pans are OK. And then (there was) an assortment of useless items that I happened to have stored in plastic bins. One bin full of sarongs. One bin full of little purses. One bin full of gloves and scarves. And some of the antiques look salvageable, with a fair amount of professional help.
So suddenly I find myself moving. moving out of my house. but moving to nowhere. I don't have anywhere to move this stuff. And there are no available self-storage units for 50-100 miles around New Orleans. But I've got to get it all out as fast as I can lest this stuff, too, contracts mold. And also to give the house more chance to breathe. I have no electricity, and I won't have power until I get the house completely rewired. So the only hope for getting rid of the mold in the house is to tear out the wet sheet rock, tear out the cabinets, and leave the windows open.
I keep praying it won't rain.
And New Orleans is barely able to support a mold remediation project of this size. I'd say only about 1/8 of the stores that are on "high ground" are now open (and high ground accounts for only about ¢® of the entire city). And those stores that are open have only reduced hours. If I don't get to the grocery store by 4:00, it closes. And the lines are long.
For the first three days, I kept missing my opportunities to get to a store. Luckily Alice had done some major shopping in Houston and had stocked us with plenty of bleach, ammonia, gloves, masks, hand-sanitizer, etc. etc. And friends kept inviting me over to eat, or brought sandwiches by the house. Had they not, I wouldn't have eaten.
New Orleans is a sad, sad place. Even in Uptown, which was the least affected, every house has a refrigerator and a great deal of debris in front of it. Trees are down all over the place, and blue roofs abound. And Lakeview, which was one of the hardest hit, is completely brown. There is barely a living thing in Lakeview. By the second day there, I was so grateful to drive back across the lake to the "logging camp" where the birds are chirping and everyone is not walking around with a drooping head.
Last night there was a gathering of the Shades of Praise. There are about 20 of us back in town. We've been working hard to help every member of Shades of Praise to come back. Finding apartments, paying rental deposits when necessary, getting people some cash so they can buy a few basic household items. 20 out of 65 is a huge accomplishment, and I was overjoyed to see who was in attendance at the gathering. I got some of the biggest hugs I've ever gotten in my life. And for the first time I was in a room full of people, half of whom had lost much more than I had. Gary, after hugging me said, "How's your house?" I shook my head sadly. "How's yours?" I asked. "Gone," he said. "But more importantly," he asked, "how are all your loved ones?" "Fine, fine" I answered, as tears welled up in my eyes. Little did he know that he was one of the loved ones I had been worried about the most.
The Shades are all accounted for now, but we won't rest until all, who want to be, are back in New Orleans. Last night, the 20 of us stood in a circle, held hands, and with Al's familiar accompaniment, we sang, "Let Your presence fill this place." Tears rolled down our faces.
My plan for now is to stay in Covington with Paula and Jim. They have a couple extra bedrooms, and Paula has agreed to move her office out of one of them so I can live here. They also have a little attic storage space where I can stash my ridiculous abundance of artwork, knick knacks, and bin of small purses. I talked this morning with my sister about the antiques to try to determine the real value of each. I may send some to her, and some to my cousin. I definitely want to travel
lighter. Several times a day I mutter something about the ridiculous amount of stuff I own. Valerie keeps reminding me that compared to most people, I have very little stuff. But right now, if I had my druthers, I'd have just a little condo in the sky.
To those of you who have contributed to Shades of Praise, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! Shades is the bright spot in all this for me.Rebuilding New Orleans will be hard and oftentimes very sad work. Shades of Praise is my source of hope and joy, laughter and song. A couple of you emailed and asked how you could contribute. The easiest way is through our web site at www.shadesofpraise.org
Please forgive me for not answering all your emails individually. I am still quite overwhelmed with emails and phone calls. Paula's phone isn't working (actually her number is ringing at someone else's house!) and I am running through my cell phone minutes fast just in talking to adjusters, calling my credit card company, figuring out where I can get my mail, etc. etc. I hope that this email is a reasonable, if somewhat less than satisfying response.
I love you all dearly. And please please know that it is your love and support and all your offers of help, that have helped me to trust. to know that no matter what (and this was a darned big "what"), I will be OK, I will be taken care of, and I will be loved. Thank you!
Sunday, October 16, 2005
L.C. was the front man for two blue-collar blues bands in Chicago - Two for the Blues and Trouble No More. He also performed with a myriad of other R&B and blues groups in Chicago. L.C. Walker had a smile for friends and strangers alike. He had many interests beyond music. He was a hot bowler, a strong chess player, a self-taught computer geek, and a devoted parent. He became a parent via marriage - five stepsons, I believe. He worked for 16 years for the U.S. Postal Service, and walked away to build a life free of a bureaucratic master.
I am writing as if L.C. was one of my best friends. I learned most of this at his memorial service. He was a blues buddy, but I didn't know him that well. I keep a list of people that I want to know better; L.C. Walker was at the top of the list. I thought I had plenty of time to act on my intent. L.C. fell, and I am left with regrets and a lesson - if you intend to do something, ACT NOW!
L.C. Walker's memorial service was packed last Friday. It was an amazing to see how many lives this man touched - black and white, young and old, male and female. The Chicago blues community was out in force, but so were L.C.'s bowling partners, his neighbors, his extended family. After the service, a bunch of the mourners headed to a bowling alley in Blue Island to roll some games in honor of the deceased. L.C. Walker was booked at Bill's Blues in Evanston that Friday night with Two for the Blues. L.C.'s partner, guitarist Tom Crivellone, bravely went on with the show. Toronzo Cannon sat in - he was tight with L.C. Walker, and he is another bluesman with a "regular guy" job (L.C. worked for the post office, Toronzo drives a bus for the Chicago Transit Authority). The club was jammed; emotions ran hot and high; I drank too much and that was the right thing to do.
L.C. Walker didn't make much money singing the blues. He could care less about that. His goal was to make as much music as possible, to generate as much joy as possible, to convert strangers into friends.
Good bye, L.C. Maybe we can spend time together on the other side.
Monday, October 10, 2005
Add on the man-made catastrophes, and the list becomes truly daunting. Genocide in Darfur, Islamo-facist attacks in Britain, the Iraq war, narco-terrorism in Latin America.....our current era seems very precarious.
It is also interesting how quickly non-affected populations forget natural disasters. Guatemala had a horrible disaster in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch hit the country with 180 MPH winds - 9,000 people died from that storm. In January, 2001 India was hit with a huge earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people - does anyone here in Chicago remember those disasters?
The bluesman sayeth, "There is no sense worrying about the things you can't do nothin' about." "Mourn, rebuild, move on" is the credo of many people that survive natural disasters.
In Chicago, we don't have hurricanes or earthquakes. Our natural disasters are smallish events - a tornado or two, blizzards, heat waves. This is another reason why I love Chicago.
Friday, October 07, 2005
NWU is a nice little school, completely overshadowed by the gargantuan University of Nebraska. UN permeates everything in Lincoln, especially during football season. The Cornhuskers are 4-0. They spanked Maine and Wake Forest, then squeaked by Pitt and Kansas State. Next up is Texas Tech, who is ranked #7 I think. Husker Nation is all atwitter.
I expected Lincoln to be a pretty bland, landlocked, midwestern burg. I underestimated the "college town" effect. During my trip to the SuperValu grocery store, I saw tatooed Goth girls, fully cloaked Muslim women, muscled-up African Americans, an Asian family and some of the expected middle-aged and elderly white folks. This is a "blue" island in the "red" sea of Nebraska. UN is the largest employer in the area and the town has the liberal tilt and the cultural trappings of a larger city. And, of course, Lincoln is the home of an internationally famous institution, The Zoo Bar, a miraculous blues oasis in the flat wasteland between Chicago and the West Coast.
Since I was in Lincoln on Sunday and Monday, the Zoo Bar was quiet. It was closed completely on Sunday, and open for drinking only (no music) on Monday. I visited Monday afternoon around 5:30 to soak in the karma of the place. This is a long, narrow club - about as wide as three or four bowling lanes and as long as a single bowling lane. The stage area is small, but not ridiculously so. It can accommodate a band with 5 or 6 members with ease. The dominant decorating touch is the unique wall treatment - the Zoo Bar is plastered with old promotional posters dating back to its opening date (in 1973), and the featured artists are the "who's who" of the blues - B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite, Lefty Dizz, Magic Slim, Luther Allison, James Harman, Eddy 'the Chief" Clearwater, and on and on. The second generation owner (youngish fella, close-cropped hair) was tending bar - he was friendly in a quiet way. There were only a few patrons hanging off the bar - clearly regular customers given the banter they exchanged with the bartender. My wife and I had a couple of drinks, small-talked with the bartender and bought Zoo Bar t-shirts.
We stayed at a strange motel near the interstate. It had an olde English motif (including a large plastic knight on horseback in the parking lot). The accommodations were adequate, but the place was haunted by a strange long-term resident. A long-haired late-50's guy, an amputee in a very speedy motorized wheelchair, buzzed around the place at all hours. I have a story about this man, but will save it for another day.
On Monday afternoon, we loaded up the rental truck with Connie's paintings; Connie drove the Volvo. We hit the road at 5:30 a.m. for the long drive back to Chicago. The posted speed limit was 75 MPH in Iowa; most people ignored that and put the hammer down. I am sure many of the folks that passed my truck were pushing triple digits. The gasoline conservation message has yet to reach the travelers on Interstate 80. We were home in time for dinner, our rumps and backs sore from the hours of sitting in the vehicles as they covered the 567 miles between Lincoln NE and Evanston IL.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Pray for the Chief...............They say it is a virus, but he is in the hospital.....
Friday, September 30, 2005
This will be an edgy evening. I hope that it all works out.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
So I am shifting my attention to local stuff in Chicago's great Loop to keep my hurricane anxiety down. If you don't know downtown Chicago, the major train stations are just west of the Chicago River, a bit outside of the Loop. The Union Pacific Metra station is at Canal and Monroe; Union Station (more Metra and Amtrak) is at Canal and Adams. The bridges over the Chicago River that lead to the train stations are prime real estate for panhandlers, street musicians, and pamphleteers. One of the top "bucket drummers" in Chicago has staked his claim to a spot in the middle of the Monroe Street bridge. I usually don't tip the bucket drummers - they are mostly loud and annoying - but this guy has style. He plays a medium tempo funk beat in 4-bar spurts, then breaks to shout out messages. I will try to write out what I hear when I cross the bridge:
"boom crack booma booma boom crack..boom crack booma booma boom crack..boomcrack booma booma boom crack..boom..THANK GOD ITS FRIDAY!..boom crack booma booma boom crack..boom crack booma booma boom crack..boom crack booma booma boom crack..boom..LET'S GO WHITE SOX!!"
That's the general idea. The Bucket Beater also makes brief observations about the people passing by, which he shouts out during the breaks (example: "Nice Dress, Baby!!"). Sometimes he shouts out something with a religous theme (example: "Just Love Jesus"). His energy level is high and he grins ferociously as he pounds and shouts. You just gotta tip a guy like that.
Outdoor bucket drumming season is winding to a close - when the temps drop, the buckets go away. Chicago's policemen are fond of rousting the buskers and panhandlers - a group of beggars are suing the Chicago Police Department, claiming harassment and violation of free speech right (yikes! Pleas for spare change is convered by the First Amendment?). On some days, my favorite Bucket Beater is absent, having been sent packing by Chicago's Finest. There are many folks on the street that should be rousted, but not the Monroe Street Bridge Bucket Beater.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
We've all watched with horror the devastation wreaked on Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama by Hurricane Katrina and particularly the ongoing tragedy in New Orleans. It's hard to imagine the American musical landscape without the contributions of so many musicians from the Crescent City. And that musical heritage continued until a week ago when the levees broke. Now there are hundreds of musicians left without a job or a home and it may be a very long time before they are able to work again, if ever. There are also musicians whose whereabouts are unknown and may number among the dead when we learn the whole story.
We thought it appropriate to pass along to you some information about musicians that are known to be safe and also let you know ways in which you can help musicians directly.
Firstly - here is a list of musicians that are known to be safe, courtesy of Mary Katherine Aldin of the Post War Blues mailing list:
Jeffrey "Jellybean" Alexander, Steve Allen, Kevin Allman, Brint Anderson, Theresa Andersson, James Andrews, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Johnny Angel, Christine Balfa, Marcia Ball, Lucien Barbarin, Mike Barras and family, Rebecca Barry, Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes, Dave Bartholomew, Harold Battiste, Jamal Battiste, Russell Batiste, Tab Benoit, Beausoleil (Michael Doucet and all band members), Doug Belote, Better Than Ezra, Terrance Blanchard, Eddie Bo (plus sister Veronica and his band), Bonerama, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, John Boutté, Lillian Boutté,Tricia "Sista Teedy" Boutté, Alonzo Bowens, Russ Broussard, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Jody Brown, Maurice Brown, Wendell Brunious (Preservation Hall Jazz Band), George and Nina Buck (Palm Court Cafe), Henry Butler, Grayson Capps, Big Al Carson, Ricki Castrillo, Topsy Chapman, Alex Chilton, Evan Christopher, Jon Cleary, Rick Coleman, Harry Connick, Jr., Cowboy Mouth, Susan Cowsill, Davell Crawford, Jack Cruz, Dash Rip Rock, Jeremy Davenport, Theryl "Houseman" DeClouet, Dirty Dozen Brass Band (all members), The Dixie Cups (but lost everything), Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias, Michael Dominici, Fats Domino, Rockin' Dopsie & the Zydeco Twisters (all members), Dr. John, Snooks Eaglin (and family of 12, all nowhomeless), Lars Edegran, Nancy Edwards, Joe Espino & New Orleans Brass Potholes Band (all members), Charlie Fardela, Jack Fine (of the Palmetto Bug Stompers), Pat Flory & Donna, John Fohl, Frankie Ford, Andy Forrest, Gina Forsyth, Pete Fountain, Derrick Freeman, Jonathan Freilich (N.O. Klezmer All-Stars), Bob French, Peter Fuller, Funky Meters, Galactic, Katrina Geenen (WWOZ dj), Banu Gibson, Steve Goodson, Tim Green, John "Papa" Gros and all members of Papa Grows Funk, James Hall, Tony Hall, Jeff Hannusch, Corey Harris, Leigh "Lil' Queenie" Harris, Duke Heitger,Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Corey Henry, Andi Hoffman, Kenny Holladay, Peter Holsapple, Hot Club of New Orleans (all members), The Iguanas (all members), Burke Ingraffia, Benny Jones Sr., Leroy Jones, Dave Jordan and family, Kirk Joseph, Jerry Jumonville, Chris Thomas King and family, Joe Krown, Julia LaShae, Joe Lastie (drummer, Preservation Hall Jazz Band), Tim Laughlin, Washboard Chaz Leary, Bryan Lee, David Leonard & Roselyn Lionheart (David & Roselyn), Herman Leonard, Lil' Rascals Brass Band, Li'l Stooges Brass Band, Eric Lindell, A.J. Loria, Jeremy Lyons, Ronald Markham, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Steve Masakowski, Irvin Mayfield, Tom McDermott, Humberto "Pupi" Menez (and aunt Caridad Delatorre), Charlie Miller, Charles Louie Moore, Deacon John Moore (band members unknown), Bill Morgan, Tom Morgan, Chris Mule, Kenny Neal, The Neville Brothers, Charmaine Neville, Ian Neville, Ivan Neville, Kevin O'Day, Anders Osborne, Joshua Mann Paillet (owner of A Gallery for Fine Photography), Stevenson Palfi, Earl Palmer, Panorama Jazz Band, Joshua Paxton, Michael Pearce, Spike Perkins, Dave Pirner, Renard Poche, Pocketfoxx, George Porter Jr., Dirk Powell, Shannon Powell and family, Gloria Powers, Wardell Quezergue, Quintron & Miss Pussycat, The Radiators, Jan Ramsey & most Offbeat staff, Rebirth Brass Band (Kabuki unknown), Herlin Riley, Marcus Roberts, Coco Robicheaux, John Rodli (New Orleans Jazz Vipers), Biff Rose, Brent Rose and family, George Rossi, Wanda Rouzan, Dixie Rubin, Kermit Ruffins, Scott Saltzman, Mark and Will Samuels (Basin Street Records), Ben Sandmel, Jumpin' Johnny Sansone, Marc and Ann Savoy and family, Alexandra Scott, Mem Shannon and the Membership, Derek Shezbie, James Singleton, Johnny Sketch, Michael Skinkus, Robert Snow (New Orleans Jazz Vipers), Steamboat Willie, Sally Stevens, Armand St. Martin, Brian Stoltz, Marc Stone, Bill Summers, Ken Swartz, Irma Thomas, Dave Torkanowsky, Rick Trolsen, Allen Toussaint, Willie Turbinton, Johnny Vidacovich, Rob Wagner, Mark Walton, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Melissa Weber, Raymond Weber, Mike West, Dr. Michael White, Marva Wright, June Yamagishi
Here is some information on how you can help the surviving musicians - from the Jazz Foundation of America:
(Message from Wendy Oxenhorn Executive Director at the Jazz Foundation
Two Organizations helping the musicians in New Orleans:
We are directing folks to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic (NOMC) which has the names and addresses of so many musicians in New Orleans, and are working now to find them and find temporary housing for them in schools etc.
But let us remember...
... it will be the Jazz Foundation who will be called upon to provide
money to the musicians for first month rents and security deposits on new
apartments and relocations. As well, we're going to try to get instruments replaced.
Please let your contacts know if you think they can help, ask them to
** New Orleans Musicians Clinic (NOMC) **
This is a fantastic hands on organization who has the names and addresses of
so many great musicians because they have them all coming to their FREE health
clinic all these years and now, they are the ones who are tracking down the local musicians and finding them shelter.
They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
They are the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and know the whereabouts of the local musicians down there.
Contact: Kathy Richard directly at 337 989-0001
Send donations to:
NOMC Emergency Fund
funds will be distributed by:
SW LA Area Health Education Center Foundation, Inc.
103 Independence Blvd.
Lafayette, LA 70506
The New Orleans Musicians Clinic is determined to keep Louisiana Music Alive!
It is our beacon to soothe our souls. We want to relocate our New Orleans musicians
into the Lafayette/ Acadiana community where they can remain a life force! But most of them have lost everything... we must help them rebuild their lives.
They can't access any of their NOMC accounts. They desperately need money to fund these efforts.
** Jazz Foundation of America **
We will be addressing the longer term needs of these jazz and blues artists who will have just lost everything.
We will be raising funds and distributing money for the musicians to get a new
apartment or room for rent: by giving a first month's rent, possibly more, for
them to start over, a place to live. (This is what we normally do on a daily
basis for musicians across the country who become sick and can't pay their rent,
we also keep food on the table and get employment to hundreds of elderly musicians
through our Jazz in the Schools program. Our operations normally assist 35 musicians
As well, we will be attempting to help New Orleans musicians by replacing the thing that matters most and the only way they can ever work again: their instruments. To those who lost their instruments, like drummers and bassists who could not carry their heavy equipment, and guitarist with their amps, we will be making an effort to work with manufacturers and music stores to replace those instruments for as many as we possibly can.
Remember, New Orleans was only “New Orleans” because of the musicians...
Send donations to:
Jazz Foundation of America
322 West 48th Street 6th floor
Director: Wendy Oxenhorn
Phone: 212-245-3999 Ext. 21
To make an online CREDIT CARD DONATION OR PLEDGE:
go to: http://www.jazzfoundation.org/index2.html and click bottom right corner of page where it says “instant pledge”
Thank you, from our hearts.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
My 9 year old started fourth grade at a new school today. I saw her off this morning. I was dazed and fuzzy as I waved good-bye to her - the Gulf Coast disaster and unrelated mundane nonsense caused me to sleep fitfully last night. My mind was flopping like a fish in a boat. My dazed state has continued as I sat in my Chicago Loop office trying to be productive. I actually was productive, but it was a huge effort.
And to add to my sense of spaciness, Bob Denver died.
I am a baby boomer; Gilligan meant something to me, as did Maynard G. Krebs. Yes, they were fluffy, inconsequential TV creations, but they put my whole family in a good mood for 30 minutes each week (not an easy achievement, believe me). Bob Denver was 70 years old - not very old by today's standards. He will live forever in syndication.
At least Fats Domino survived Katrina and is safe. Like so many residents of the Gulf Coast, he has lost everything. Allen Toussaint also got out and is in New York after being evacuated from a flooded NOLA hotel. The music has been silenced in New Orleans for now - washed away by the evil storm.
Monday, September 05, 2005
DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
And miss her each night and day
I know I'm not wrong because the feeling's
Getting stronger the longer I stay away
Miss the moss-covered vines, tall sugar pines
Where mockingbirds used to sing
I'd love to see that old lazy Mississippi
Running in the spring
Moonlight on the bayous
Creole tunes fill the air
I dream about magnolias in June
And I'm wishin I was there
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
When that's where you left your heart
And there's one thing more, I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans
Sunday, September 04, 2005
After a few days of pursuing my investment banker career, my family joined me here in NYC. Connie loves this town - she would like to live here once the girls are grown and gone. It is heaven for a visual artist - so much art is here, and so much inspiration for art is here. Sarah and Amanda are another story - the busy-ness and urban landscape are not to their liking. We attended a bat mitzvah on Saturday - Amanda's best friend was the bat mitzvah.
I did a lot of walking on the streets of Manhattan this week - walking and thinking. New York seems to be cleaner and calmer than it was during my last visit. The infrastructure seems stronger - I saw three street cleaning vehicles this week, and everyone seems to be washing down sidewalks and picking up trash. The social connections appear solid. In NOLA, much of the infrastructure and social connections were washed away by Katrina. I feel ashamed of what has happened, what is still happening. The money for beefing up the levees was cut from the Federal budget even though this catastrophe was clearly forseen by many people (I read the Times Picayune series in 2002 on the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane on NOLA, and they had everything right). I think this is worse than not protecting against the 9/11/01 attacks - flying jets into buildings hadn't happened before; hurricanes on the Gulf Coast are regular occurances that can be anticipated.
Here in NYC, there are certainly race and class divisions, but the city is humming along, mostly too busy to worry much about that stuff. I have had pleasant conversations with lots of people, ranging from wealthy private equity investors in the Chrysler Building to raggedy homeless fellows on 3rd Avenue. But when a major calamity strikes and all those with money flee, the ones that stay left behind are usually poor - black and/or elderly. The ignored sub-structure of society becomes visible when the super-structure gets stripped away. NOLA is huge example of this.
They say that good things can come from tragic events and it is often true. So maybe New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will get better protection from hurricanes. And maybe the poor folks will get more attention from U.S. society. Right now, I am hopeful but not optimistic.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
My goal on these rides is to sweat. I am not dawdling and gazing at the surroundings. But this morning was impossible to ignore. The cool air from the north chased away the summer humidity. The winds blew away the haze and smog. The clouds on the horizon amplified the light show as dawn broke. As I rode back south across the lakefront Northwestern campus, the towers of downtown Chicago were flashing in the light of the rising sun. It was all so clear, so clear.
There were an unusual number of bicyclists, runners and dog-walkers out early this morning. I saw lots of smiling faces, several friendly people called out to greet me as I whizzed by. I felt lifted up and encouraged. Strangers can still share their delight as they experience a fine morning - all is not lost, after all.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Jade managed to sneak out of the house into the backyard a couple of weeks ago. She was happy in the yard - we let her out regularly. This time, she did not return. When cats feel death approaching, they often wander off to an isolated spot to face the reaper alone. This is what Jade did. Amanda was very upset and searched for the cat for days. We haven't found her. She is certianly dead, and I expect that her body is not going to be found. We have wild critters that wander through our leafy suburb at night, and the little cat's corpse probably ended up as a midnight snack.
Well. of course this event has been expected - FIP is always fatal - yet there remains a feeling of surprise and mystery to this ending. We won't have our anticipated cat burial in the backyard. Amanda has recovered from her grief, but we still feel unsettled.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
A small group of Heller alumni had a fine idea. Since Heller was a seminal experience in the careers of so many people, perhaps there would be some interest in a reunion. The word went out, e-mails flew through cyber-space and the event occured on Thursday, August 11 at a two-story bar just north and west of the Loop. It was wild - probably 500 people crammed into the joint. All sorts of folks came to the reunion - from mail room staff to Group Presidents. It was equal parts nostalgia and networking. Many fermented beverages were consumed and many backs were slapped.
I have always found it interesting how work experiences augment, or even substitute, for family units in modern America. Heller was a corporation but it was also a social grouping and a collection of shared experiences that caused people to bond. I was sad when I left, and I am told there was basically a wake on the night before the company was officially sold to GE Capital. All of this merger and acquisition activity has a large emotional component, and the emotions live on for quite a while - they were on display at the Heller reunion last Thursday.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
Junior Parker has slipped into blues obscurity, dead now for 34 years. He came from Clarksdale, Mississippi - like so many other giants of the blues - and eventually died in Chicago of a brain tumor - he didn't live to see his 40th birthday.
JP was a singer and harmonica player. His motto was "I sing stories sad and true. I sing the blues and play harmonica. too. It is very funky." He had his first hits in the 50's, and was a bigger act than Bobby "Blue" Bland, for a while.
My friend and harmonica guru, Joe Filisko, burned a CD for me of some out-of-print Junior Parker tunes. Junior cut some great tracks during his heyday - "Funny How Time Slips Away" (I love his long conversation with his dog, Sam, between the verses); "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water;" "I Done Got Over It." He was a calm, soulful, understated musician - a major contrast to other cats who were big blues men - Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, et al.
Junior Parker's harmonica playing came from exposure to and lessons from Sonny Boy Williamson II (aka Rice Miller), an edgy dude who inspired legions of blues harp players, wannabees and posers. Sonny Boy II was out there - he stole another harmonica player's name, his vocals had a wierd, gargling thing going on during sustained notes; his harmonica snarled and spit at you. Late in his life, he toured England, where he was loved by British Blues crowd. This experience influenced him - he took to wearing a bowler hat and even effected an English accent at times.
I spent the early hours this Sunday morning on my back porch with my battered "A" Special 20 harmonica. (This is the harp that I sat on, which severely bent the cover plates. I pounded out the covers with a small ball peen hammer; I kind of like the way it looks now. It isn't very airtight, though). So I sat in the rocker on the porch and toiled away trying to perfect "Big Walter's Boogie," an intrumental tune that is a rite of passage for all blues harp players. Big Walter Horton was overshadowed by other blues musicians - he was even overshadowed by other harp players. This is ironic, since he was an amazing player - very innovative, and the tone he pulled from the little old harmonica was huge. "Big Walter Tone" is one of the many quests we blues harp players pursue. Big Walter gave tips to Little Walter Jacob and Sonny Boy Williamson II. He started recording before he was 10 years old. He had quirky musical tastes, often tossing in a cheerful version of "La Cucaracha" during his shows. He was a serious drinker. Bluesman to the core.
So I will keep plugging away at Big Walter's Boogie. I may never get it right, but it feels right to work it.
Monday, August 01, 2005
I did a bit of business traveling right after my family trip. I ususally take a local cab to the airport from Evanston - Norshore Cab. It appears that all of the Norshore drivers are south Asian immigrants these days - from Pakistan or Bangaldesh. I hopped into a cab to Midway Airport on Tuesday evening and the gentleman behind the wheel was a very polite 50-something fellow from Karachi. We struggled through traffic for an hour - it was raining steadily that night, a blessed change form the persistent drought we have suffered this summer. While the rain was welcome, it turned into an annoyance for my driver. The roof of his weathered cab was not watertight, and a leak developed directly over his head. The poor guy was subject to an accelerating drip on his balding pate as we crawled toward the airport. It was a funny/sad sight. I gave him a big tip.
In Minneapolis, all of the Gold Star Cab drivers are Somalis. Minneapolis has the largest Somali community in the U.S. (Toronto has a slightly larger Somali population). Of course, Somalia is one of the most desperate places on our planet; Twin Cities is heaven to these folks. I caught a cab from the hotel at 6 a.m.; my driver was a lean, well-groomed fellow in a bright white shirt and dark trousers. The weather was cool and blessedly clear, and we small-talked about that. My driver was celebrating his seventh anniversary in the U.S. He projected optimism, and he had lots of questions about Chicago. He might be thinking about leaving Twin Cities for a new venue. I would think that the taxi business is more lucrative in Chicago...
Taxi drivers work hard and take home little disposable income. I tell all my friends to tip these folks generously - they need the dough. Driving a cab is the immigrant's profession - I rarely ride with a native-born American in a taxi these days. Driving a taxi is not a bad way for a relatively new U.S. resident to learn a lot about his community and his new country. It is an honorable path.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
I don't understand very many things. I don't even fully understand myself. When I get boggled, I try to take comfort in fatalism - I am not important; in fact, the human race is not that important in the grand scheme of things. This old earth was around for a long time before the first human appeared and is likely to be around a long time after the last human dies. If you think about this for a long time, small glimmers of humor begin to appear around the edges of our most tragic human events. I think this approach is behind Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" books. It can all end, our physical existence may cease yet there will be something that continues - perhaps we continue to participate in the world after we are gone. Perhaps humans will continue to participate in the galaxy when if and when we destroy our planet.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Sunday was a quiet day. Independence Day dawned with light showers - our first rain in ages. The vegetation in the Chicago area is dying from lack of precipitation. From May 20 through July 6, we have had less than one inch of rain in Chicago. This is the first time in the 135 years of recorded weather observations in Chicago that precipitation levels have been this low in late spring/early summer. This will be a bad year for Illiniois farmers.
As I was leaving the house for my bike ride on Monday morning, the telephone rang. It was my father-in-law, Gregorio. He was quite insistant that we come to his bungalow in Chicago (33rd and Ashland) for an Independence Day barbecue. His brother is visiting from Mexico - my wife's uncle. So we went and I met Lucadio, Gregorio's younger brother (Gregorio is 81, Lucadio is 80). Lucadio needs a walker to get around, and he seemed to be in pain. We took a look at his left leg and reeled back - it was red and swollen, from toes to thigh. My wife insisted on taking him to the emergency room at our hospital back in Evanston. The ER docs admitted him and hooked him up with IV's of powerful antibiotics. He is still there. I suspect that he could have lost the leg to the infection if it had gone untreated.
We had a wonderful dinner with our neighbors - Kim and Jean-Francoise. They are both porfessors at Northwestern and their brilliance would intimidate me if I thought about it. To close out the day, we watched "Taxi Driver" ("You talkin' to me?") the DVD player and walked down to the lake for the Evanston fireworks. We watched the show from a street near the lake, and the concussion from the fireworks explosions set off car alarms up and down the block. It was a collection of obnoxious sounds, but the visuals were good.
I like Independence Day. I am still a huge fan of the USA - its principles, the concepts behind the country, the intense energy of the place. We don't always live up to our principles, we make more than our fair share of mistakes, but we keep trying. I don't understand the "blame America first" philosophy, but I understand that in world affairs, we are everyone's problem and everyone's solution.
Monday, June 27, 2005
I was banging away on Saturday and suddenly started to hear a clicking noise - one click for each spin of the wheels. I stopped and looked at my rear tire - somehow I managed to pick up a safety pin! My tire was hissing angrily. I turned back and rode it until the tire was totally flat, then walked the dog home. Lousy ride.
I repaired the tire and was back out slammin' it this morning. It was early and I was riding on the sidewalk to escape a section of bad road in Wilmette. There is one crook in the sidewalk that creates a little blind corner. I cruised around the corner, and met another bicyclist coming toward me rapidly. It was perfectly bad timing - there was no opportunity to avoid a wreck. We each had about 0.1 second to react. We collided and hit the ground in a tangle of arms, legs and bicycles. Since we fell on the grass, we weren't hurt badly - we weren't really going all that fast. But I bent the rim on my front tire. I tried to ride it home, slowly. This painful effort was terminated when my front tire exploded - a nasty sound it was, echoing like a rifle shot down Sheridan Road. So I had another long walk home. Bad biking this week thus far.
As I sat at my desk today, delayed reaction injuries began to appear - stiff neck, sore back, achy knees. I may let the bike sit in the garage for a week or so - go back to the stationary version at the Y. I have yet to blow a tire or have a wreck on the Lifecycle (but if anyone can do it, I can).
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Hard to believe that some 18 year old ball-bouncer dodged the ID check and got into The Keg with his pop gun. Ah, The Keg never was too careful about checking ID's, so I shouldn't be surprised. After several drinks (I assume), this young punk decided to stand up to a 22-year old African American guy - an unwed father out for a late night party. Words led to blows, and the ball-bouncer pulled his gun and shot the unwed father to death. Yet another stupid murder in the good ol' USA - one kid dead and another kid lost. May God have mercy on their souls.
The deal went down while a crowd of richy rich white Kellogg grads were in the ol' Keg celebrating their matriculation into the high cognitive class of business achievers. They got to watch the bloody drama. Hey, this is a little piece of education that ain't available at the B-School, boyz and girlz. It is brutal down there at the lower rungs of the ladder. People die over diddly-squat - an insult, a sexual come-on directed at the wrong young woman. Learn your lessons, Kelloggers. These are the people in our American mass market. Makes me want to light a candle.
So here in Evanston, we have a new reality - young people drink, get stupid, and blow each other's brains out. What a nice suburb we have here!
Friday, June 17, 2005
"Narcissitic Entitlement" is a psychological term that has been around for a while. There are lots of people that bang through life with an inflated sense of personal entitlement - people that believe thier rights trump everyone else's rights, people who never apologize or concede anything. Folks afflicted with narcissitic entitlement are obsessed with collecting on all debts they feel that they are owed, and they are owed a lot by many people. People with narcissitic entiltlement syndrome never forgive and never forget. They usually ignore the needs and viewpoints of others.
I am pretty sure that narcisstic entitlement is becoming a common condition. It seems to be extremely contagious - entire groups of people can quickly get infected - all the members of certain religous groups, political parties, economic classes. Some of my clients have this affliction. I think the guy my eldest daughter dates also suffers from this - at least a little bit.
Do you know anyone who is obssessed with being treated with respect and fairness, quick to take offense, always externalizes blame, views forgiveness as moral weakness and insists on repayment for any perceived transgression? These are often the type of folks that work themselves into that state of righteous rage where any behavior is justified.
This is a nasty approach to life.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Twist Turner on Drums: Twist has played with most of the legends of the blues, including Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Reed, etc. etc. Whew!!!
E. G. McDaniel, Bass: Son of the mighty Floyd McDaniel; has played with Eddy Clearwater, Byther Smyth, Junior Wells, A.C. Reed, etc. etc. Whew again!!
Brian James, Keyboards: Currently holding the keyboard slot with the Lonnie Brooks band, plays with Chico Banks, Delbert McClinton and a host of others.
Anthony Palmer, Guitar: One of the top blues guitar players around - currently playing with Matthew Skoller, has played with Luther Allison, Otis Rush, Joanna Connor and many others.
Your correspondent, Mr. G, will blow the harp and sing a bit.
If you read this and you live somewhere near Evanston IL, come on out and party with the Mystery Band!