Monday, March 27, 2006

State Hall, December 1990

Freshmen, State Hall 1990Chris Harris, Carrie Nail, Christie White, Teresa "Mookie" Franklin and David Smothers. Sitting on my bed, in my dorm room, in December of 1990. That would be State Hall at the University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas.

Chris teaches high school in Little Rock, according to my friend Angie. I last saw Carrie at Christie's wedding back in the mid-90s, and I found a few e-mails from her that were already years old in some off-brand e-mail account - like Classmates or something. Christie is married and lives about ten minutes away from my house - we had dinner with her Saturday night. And We were all so tight with Mookie our freshman year, but then she went to the University of Memphis and no one ever heard from her again. I still wonder what happened to her. David is a cop here in Arkansas.

Who would have thought? And is it just me, or does it look like David is sitting on a big google-eyed catfish? Not that that would have been so strange in my room.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Harold and Julie, late nineteen-seventies, in the back yard at White Street

Me and my sister Julie, some time in the late seventies, in the back yard at White Street. My grandfather had caught a good mess of fish, and I guess my grandmother had some film left in her camera. Note the thriving tomato plants in the background.


Gah! Filthy weather today - rain, wind, cold. One of the reasons I moved to New Orleans was that I thought Memphis was too cold and winter lasted too long. I still think that. Cold weather is useless after New Year's, as far as I'm concerned, and absolutely obscene after St. Patrick's Day.

The cold and the wet makes me snarl and sneer and wonder if I can't get my job back in New Orleans. I probably could, actually, I just wouldn't be able to find a place to stay.

I'm letting myself mourn and fret over our vanished way of life when it overtakes me and trying not to worry about it. Strange as it sounds, I didn't have much time to think about it before the end of the year. First we didn't know what we'd do - stay here? Go back? Then it was busybusybusy with finding John a school and me and Sonya getting jobs and buying a house. Not that things are settled and we've got a little routine (blessed routine!) going on I can look back. I'm less angry now and more wistful, and I guess that's a good thing.

And cold, gross weather has always made me feel like shit. Last weekend was warm and sunny and I was fine, totally fine. I sat on the back porch from noon until dark last Sunday and put John's swingset together and I couldn't think of a better way to spend the day. Happy, sunny, all is right with the world. Our air conditioner wasn't working, either, so we had all the windows open and the fans going and it was warm in the house, a breeze blowing down the hall and John running wild in his short-sleeved Buzz Lightyear pajamas.

[Mind you, that kind of thing would be hell in July. I called the builder next day and told him about it. "It's not hot now, but it's gonna be hot someday," I said, and he agreed with me. The air conditioner man came out that afternoon. The verdict? No freon. I guess since they installed it in December they got confused and thought they were in Alaska or something and the air conditioner was just for show. But no, I really need it to work.]

Anyhow, I was busy this weekend. The list!

  • Washed, vacuumed and Febrezed Sonya's truck, and got her an oil change.
  • Purchased three rose bushes, topsoil and mulch at the Wal Mart, and planted them outside the kitchen window.
  • Got lunch for my mom and grandmother and got to hang out with them for a while, with John. Dutiful Son=Me.
  • Met the neighbors.
  • Replaced lightbulbs outside the garage (a production number including a chair and a screwdriver) and in the shower in our bathroom (less of a production, but I still needed a chair).
  • Put a new headlight in my car. The burned-out one earned me a ticket back in February. In Memphis. On a Saturday night. You'd think Memphis cops had more important things to do on a Saturday night then pull over a Volvo in Midtown, wouldn't you? But you'd be wrong. And I did it in the AutoZone parking lot, in under ten minutes. Handy Harold.
  • Visited with my buddy Glen and his new son. We watched wrestling, boxing, and assorted internet videos and drank beer. It was a Man's Night.
  • Laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. Between his grandmothers John's entire summer wardrobe is purchased and ready to wear.
  • Installed Mac OS X 10.4.3 on our machine at home. And got our new scanner up and running.
  • We had this drawer full of papers and paid bills and check stubs in the computer desk, right? That drawer is now sorted and filed in folders with little tabs on them.
  • Washed the dishes. Or loaded the dishwasher, anyway.

And this doesn't include assorted dog walkings and feedings. And John feedings and bathings. And running to the store to get Coke, chips and french onion dip, which goes well with the Sloppy Joes.

I went to bed both nights dizzy with tired, but I'd go to sleep thinking, "yep, got some shit done today."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Uneasy Rider

I was over at my buddy Glen's house last night. We got to talking about the old job where we both used to work (and where he's the boss now) and got on the subject of one of our favorite memories: the chick who has a bad ride on a motorcycle.

At the time, we laughed about that video for days. It was good for a solid hour of laughing last night.

Disposable Income

This afternoon I was shredding a bag of old papers that had turned up in the move. A lot of them were bank statements from 2001 and 2002.

Do you know what Sonya and I did back before we had a house and a kid? We ate. The bank statements read like SAKE CAFE LE PENICHE KUNG DYNASTY CRESCENT CITY STEAKHOUSE KYOTO PORT OF CALL MAGNOLIA GRILL PHO TAU BAY over and over again. We rarely got cash out of the bank, and we paid all our bills by check. It was all restaurants, baby.

It made me hungry. Especially for Port of Call. Good burgers, man.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Our friends Jimmy and Donna came over for dinner last night. I roasted a chicken. It was very good.

Anyway, Jimmy and I ran to the store for some beer. Jimmy was looking around.

"I like the neighborhood, man," he said, "I mean, it's red, for sure. But hell, what neighborhood around here isn't red besides Midtown?"

"The two times it snowed?" I told him, "the neighbors swarmed out on their four-wheelers."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Yet another thing that Katrina messed up was my daily post-work walk with John and Roxy. First we were living with the in-laws on no schedule in particular, then I was working second shift, and then the weather was just too cold.

Sunday, though, was warm and cloudy with no wind. The daily walk has resumed! John points out everything - "stop cars, daddy," he says at every stop sign. And if he doesn't know what it is? "What's that, daddy?" Roxy seems tickled to be out and stretching her legs again. She has to stop and smell every brick mailbox; they're like bulletin boards for dogs.

So we're going around the block last night, looking at the pink sunset. ["Pink!" John says.] It rained Sunday night, and it was sunny and mild yesterday. The neighborhood smelled like wet, warm earth, sawdust, and - incongruously but not unpleasantly - of fabric softener.

In short, my neighborhood smelled like potential.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


"The plan can change very quickly during Mardi Gras," I always told visitors who came to see me during the holiday, "be flexible."

That, at the very least, hasn't changed.

We got into town very early on Saturday morning. Clearview seemed awfully, ominously quiet to me, and I said so to Sonya.

[An aside: The DVD player? In the car? For the kid to watch on long trips? Genius. Utter, total genius.]

"It's one in the morning," she said, "in the suburbs. Don't worry about it."

We roused our hosts - Mark and Ann - out of bed long enough to say hi and exchange goodie bags. Theirs was from Ann's ride in Muses, ours was assorted Memphis knick-knacks from Beale Street.

Saturday morning John and I ran to Cane's - sweet, sweet Cane's - for a Williams Family Chicken Feast. Ann and Mark and Shelby, their little girl, were off to do family stuff, but we visitied with them for a while. We got a late start.

I was agog at the high water line on Earhart - the way I drove back and forth to work every day. Submerged, and for the most part over the roof of Sonya's truck. In town, we drove around the LSU campus and up Tulane to check out my friend Jeff's business - a sign said he was open, just not on Saturday. Good for you, Jeff!

So we got to the parades fairly late on Saturday. We parked back by our old apartment on Sophie Wright. Nostalgia. We walked up to our friend Ahmet's place on St. Charles. The Tucks parade was about half-over.

And then a strange thing happened. It was also one of the coolest Mardi Gras moments I've ever witnessed. A float was stopped in front of Ahmet's house. Ahmet and his friends were talking with one of the riders. Minutes later Ahmet and his friends were on the float, putting on costumes. A few minutes later the float rolled off with Ahmet and his buddies on it, happily flinging beads.

Sonya and I were amazed. John was waving at the people on the floats. "Throw something!" He'd yell. "Throw beads!"

And then another strange thing: Endymion was postponed until Sunday night because of the threat of bad weather. So the Williams Family saw about twenty minutes of parade on Saturday.

But! The plan changed. We got back in the car - John promptly nodded off - and made our way out Claiborne and St. Claude to the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish. It is very, very bad there. Not as bad in St. Bernard as the Ninth Ward, I think. St. Bernard looks like a violent storm went through, true, but the Ninth Ward looks bombed. People aren't moving back into those houses, ever. There's nothing left to move back in to. We also drove through Lakeview, which was a little more personal to me; Sonya and I looked at lots of houses in that neighborhood when we were thinking of buying a few years ago. I liked the grandma houses (Sonya's term); Sonya didn't. Sonya's taste worked out, didn't it? Lakeview was the spookiest, I think. It was just clouding up and starting to rain as we drove through, and at first glance the neighborhood simply looks abandoned. No people, no electricity, no movement. A broken window here, a flooded car there, some twisted wrack in the gutter. It's obvious something horrible happened.

Enough. All the devastation made us hungry, I guess, so we went back to the house and piled in Ann and Mark's space-age minivan and drove out to Deanie's for piles of fried seafood. Funny: Shelby liked the onions out of the onion rings. John like the fried stuff on the outside. Truly a good match. We ate and ate and carried home three take-out bags and slid on a layer of our own crapulence like so many slugs when we went back to the car.

Sunday? Parades, all day at Ahmet's house. All day. We got there at...twelve? One, maybe? Early afternoon, anyway. We left at eleven or so that night. Five parades, my friend. Two of them true monsters: Endymion and Bacchus. Siobhan came out to the festivities with her Canadian friends, and a good time was had by all. Traffic was nightmarish on the way back to the house, and we all dropped into bed.

Monday! First, to Haydel's for a king cake. Then I went by the dry cleaners where I had dropped off two shirts the week before the storm: closed for Mardi Gras. Then I dropped by the old employer to pick up my box of stuff. They were happy to see me and wished me well. Lunch at Sake Cafe. Sonya and I stuffed ourselves like pelicans. John did too, eating holf a bowl of rice, noodles, mushrooms and an order of gyoza.

Remember how much he ate. It's important later.

We walked up and down Decatur for a bit, buying t-shirts and what-not. John was a happy man, pointing out the sites from the seat of his stroller. Sonya wanted some beignets, so we got a to-go order and went back to the car.

"Bite! Bite!" John yelled from his car seat as Sonya ate the beignets.

"Okay," Sonya said, tearing him off a little piece, "but you're not going to like it."

John tried it. He gagged. He gagged again.

Friends, when John gags twice he is going to puke. This is a fact. After the second gag you have between one and thirty seconds to prepare yourself. This time it was closer to five seconds.

[A good thing, though: John didn't drink any milk before this happened. It didn't smell like roses, but at least that horrible milk-puke thing wasn't going on. It smelled just like gyoza, though, and I might not want any for a while.]

Up came the rice! And the gyoza! And more rice! And lots more rice! A whole freaking field of rice! I pulled over by the elevators in the parking garage and we yanked him out of the car, got his clothes off (and threw them away) and started the clean-up. The nice people in the car behind us offered up a pack of baby wipes after we went through all of ours.

"We did the same thing yesterday," the woman who handed me the wipes said.

So John is in a diaper, puke sticking his hair up in strange directions, while Sonya runs in the A & P on Magazine to get some beer to take to our friend Kelli's house to watch the night's parades. He naps.

We get to Kelli's. I sit John on the couch and go to get his spare clothes out of his bag. He slumps over on some pillows and sleeps deeper. I covered him up and we sat on Kelli's Uptown porch. People walking by to go to the parade, sirens, a brass band on nearby Napoleon was a nice little moment, right there at sunset.

I told Kelli and Sonya to go to the parades; I waited with John while he slept. Kelli has a great old apartment in a big building and she'd made chicken salad and spinach dip. I ate and drank a bloody mary.

John woke up, quiet and feverish. We sat on the couch, drank water and watched Chicken Run. It was a more sedate close to Mardi Gras than I'd counted on, but it didn't make it bad. Not at all.

Besides, when Kelli and Sonya got back John went into performance mode, counting, running through the alphabet, singing songs and generally being the very picture of a charming two year-old.

I will say it's a good bit harder to travel to Mardi Gras with a kid than just being there with one, but it will get easier as he get's older. And the city is going to come back; that's very clear to anyone who's been there. Whether with government assistance of sheer bullheaded pride of place the damaged neighborhoods will come back. It won't be next week, and you'll probably be able to see signs of Katrina for years to come - I remember going to Biloxi when I was a kid and there was still storm damage from Camille, twenty years in the past - and the locals will talk about Katrina for the rest of the century...but five years from now? I have no doubt things will be back...maybe not to normal, but the new normal will be there.