Monday, September 26, 2005

Kenneth Cometh

If the models hold, I'll be flying out of here about two hours before the remnants of Kenneth hits O`ahu with lots of rain and 25kt winds.

Part of me wishes I would be here when it hits. I've been training for this, dammit! It's the same feeling I had when I took CPR in High School ... I kept waiting for someone around me to have a heart attack. Maybe it would be the fat lady in line ahead of me at the grocery store. Or the waitress at The Big Apple. And Fr. Noelke was looking a bit shaky in those days. I definitely kept my eye on him. I was ready in case he collapsed during the homily [I still had enough residual piety then to not fantasize about him falling out while reading the gospel]. I could've been an altar boy superhero.

Right now Kenneth looks like it will be messy but not too dangerous. But these things change. And it can change all it wants, as long as my flight takes off on time.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Team Armageddon

I'm now an official Civil Defense Volunteer. We had our orientation yesterday. Six months probation, and then I'll get my ID, uniform, and permission to put flashing lights on my car. I really like that last part. Too bad the lights can only be amber or red - my van will look more like a tow truck than anything macho and exciting - but I'll take what I can get. I'm not sure how much action District 1 gets beyond flooding, but I guess I'll find out.

Spent the rest of the afternoon with the training for the newest Community Emergency Response Tea, and I got to unleash my inner superstar. There were six trainees, and we gave them a nice and difficult afternoon. For the first scenario I was an "unruly disturbance" - a surfer with a head injury and a dead friend - basically I wandered around the dark building trying to get them to pay attention to Me! Me! Me! In the second I was corpse number one - shot in the back by terrorists. In the third I was an autistic boy who wanted donuts and refused to let any male touch me. Three of us [autistic me, a "mentally challenged" adult, and our injured doctor] tried to throw a group tantrum, but we scared off the rescue team and were then split up.

The trainers wouldn't let us do the scenario where zombies attack the CERT rescuers. They pretty much ignored us whenever someone brought the idea up.

And few of my friends sees the humor of our CERT being "Team Armageddon." Gay men don't do gallows humor very well.

Made the final reservations for Turkish pensions, updated the links ... six more days and I'm outta here!

Friday, September 23, 2005


I spent half of 1994 traveling in Indonesia, and it seemed that disasters were hitting the country left and right. Workers rioted in Medan, elephants stampeded outside Tapaktuan, a tsunami hit western Java, volcanoes erupted in southern Sumatra and in Lombok, and if I recall there was an earthquake that year also. Across the archipelago people took it to mean one thing: General Suharto would soon fall. His mana was weakening, and could no longer hold the country together.

Sure, I don't believe in things like that. But it's still hard not to see comparisons between Indo in '94 and the USA in '05.


This just came out in the Public Interest Newswire: A 1999 "Reserve Component Unit Commander's Handbook" and still in effect, states that if a discharge for homosexual conduct is requested "prior to the unit's receipt of alert notification, discharge isn't authorized. Member will enter AD [active duty] with the unit."

In other words: you can be openly gay and serve in a war. You cannot be actively gay and serve during peacetime. We all knew that, we just didn't realize it was official policy. This completely puts to the lie the military's claim that gay service members would upset morale during combat.


My NetFlix addiction continues full force. I've been having a great time ordering old and foreign movies that you can't find here. There were a couple, though, that I wanted and they didn't have [in particular, Jean Genet's Un Chant d'Amour]. So I wandered over to check on ebay ... found it ... and then found some others ... and pretty soon I'd ordered a dozen movies from a Singapore store that sells classic DVD's that haven't been released in the US. It all seems vaguely black market to me, but apparently it's all legit. I've been so good about never, ever going on ebay. I've never even looked at the site. Now my innocence is shot.

The movies started arriving this week. We watched Summer and Smoke (1961) a few nights ago. It's a standard Tennessee Williams southern melodrama, starring Geraldine Page as a repressed minister's daughter who's all spirit, and Laurence Harvey as a playboy who's all flesh. I'd recommend it for any fans of great acting - Geraldine Page is stunning.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A life of adventure

Eight and a half days until I get on the plane & take off for six weeks. It doesn't even seem real.

And with all this ahead of me, I'm still fantasizing about what adventures will come next. Hollis in NY is talking about getting a group of guys together for a week in Puerto Vallarta. Ahmed suggested joining him in Egypt next year, and I still want to join Paulo one day in Rio. Rogerio wants to organize a kayak trip along Moloka`i's uninhabited north shore, from Halawa Valley to Kalaupapa. I still have a burning need to return to Sydney for Mardi Gras this Spring. And I want to do it all.

Closer to home, I find this in my email: New Year's Eve in Los Angeles. Deborah Cox opens with a full concert at the Palladium, and then Manny Lehman spins until 4am. Phil B follows with an after-hours set, 4am to noon, at the Hollywood Arena . A diva and my two favorite dj's in one night - that's already a score. Brett Henrichsen ends the weekend at Club Avalon, and I thought that I could skip him - he's never really excited me - until I heard that Club Avalon was in fact the newly remodeled Palace.

And now I have to go. The Palace The Palace The Palace - The Palace was where I first discovered the Circuit. It, along with Ikon and Arq, form the three points of some preternatural triangle where I learned how to achieve transcendence through dance. There were some amazing nights; nights when time would stop, when dawn was an abstract concept, when thousands of men would dance themselves into an alternate state of being and reality.

Those days have peaked; the circuit is in decline; meth and war have delivered a 1-2 punch that sucked much of the joy out of the scene.

But I can already hear the echo of a distant bass vibrating in my soul, and I can feel my spirit starting to lift at the thought that, maybe, we can have one more night of pure fabulousness. I've already started to chat up a crew.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Winds of Jova

Jova is close enough to keep an eye on, though it is not a direct threat yet. A couple days ago people were talking about the three hurricanes lined up to hit the islands. That was a bit of a stretch. Now the media is trying to allay fears by letting us know that Jova isn't going to hit us, and that we'll just get some hot & muggy weather.

And that is not right either. The strike probabilities for Honolulu to get hit are four percent. Not that high, but given the potential damage it's high enough for us to be on alert.

Met all day with the neighbor island forestry guys, and we reviewed our prep plans. Alvin and Patrick worked for Forestry during Iniki, so we got a lot of valuable info from them. Basically, we are not first responders, and we don't want to be on Civil Defense's list of first responders.

They did have an interesting take on FEMA's response to Katrina. They are not as critical as most of the nation. To a man, they blame the county [or parish] governments. County overnments deal with evacuation, shelter, and rescue. FEMA deals with recovery - they didn't come in for a week after Iniki. And so it was the counties - the local governments -who didn't plan to provide food, water, or medical care for their people. Some of the politicians on tv cryng that the feds dropped the ball are, in fact, the guilty parties.

I was at the Watershed Partnership Conference at Waikaloa last week. The key note speaker stressed the importance of pushing for conservation measures on working lands - farms, ranches, and the like. Now that world trade agreements are limiting the amount of allowable farming subsidies, a lot of governemnts are paying farmers and ranchers for taking conservation measures: watershed protection, wetland restoration, and other ecosystem improvements. It's an interesting new approach.

It was a good conference - one of the few I've been to where I didn't feel like sneaking out the back door half-way through. It was a bit ironic that we had a watershed conference in a luxury resort built in the desert. The resort itself was strange - a little piece of southern California suburbia, dropped down in the middle of a lava field. The buildings were bland, and it was surrounded by high-priced cookie-cutter condos. The shopping area was designed like a little strip mall, and you actually had to drive from the hotel to the shops. I don't know what kind of people would want to buy into a community like this.

The evenings were pleasant. We spent Thursday at Kahua Ranch in upcountry Kohala, and we spent Saturday driving around Pu`u Wa`awa`a. It was a sad place. The pu`u is a remnant of the old Hualalai volcano, and at one point was the most biodiverse of all of our dry montane forests. A century of over-grazing destroyed that. There are a few remnant trees, the last of their kind, and all old and dying. Fountain grass has taken over the rocky areas, creating the perfect fire trap. Forestry has fenced off some of the wetter mauka areas, and the koa, `ohi`a, and mamaki are coming back. The drier areas might be permantly degraded.

I've updated some of the weather links on the right.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

my theology of rose and tiger

Roy called last night and couldn't sleep. I figured poetry would do the trick, and pulled out one of my books. He asked for something nice. I gave him this.



Tiger: till,I,burned,with,their,
Pure,and,Rage. Then,was,I,Wrath-
Gentle: most,

Dark,and,most,Lit: in,me,an,
Eye,there,grew: springing,Vision,
Its,wars. Then,



Jose Garcia Villa

watch out for signs of particular friendships

Just when we thought we were safe, and that Bush was down for the count ... the Sith Lord Benedetto rears his ugly head.

These are excerpts from this morning's New York Times:

Vatican to Check U.S. Seminaries on Gay Presence

By Laurie Goldstein
Published: September 15, 2005

Investigators appointed by the Vatican have been instructed to review each of the 229 Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States for "evidence of homosexuality" and for faculty members who dissent from church teaching, according to a document prepared to guide the process.


In a possible indication of the ruling's contents, the American archbishop who is supervising the seminary review said last week that "anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity or has strong homosexual inclinations," should not be admitted to a seminary.

Edwin O'Brien, archbishop for the United States military, told The National Catholic Register that the restriction should apply even to those who have not been sexually active for a decade or more.

American seminaries are under Vatican review as a result of the sexual abuse scandal that swept the priesthood in 2002. Church officials in the United States and Rome agreed that they wanted to take a closer look at how seminary candidates were screened for admission, and whether they were being prepared for lives of chastity and celibacy.


But some church officials in the United States and in Rome, including some bishops and many conservatives, attributed the abuse to gay priests and called for an overhaul of the seminaries. Expectation for such a move rose this year with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, who has spoken of the need to "purify" the church.


The catechism of the Catholic Church says people with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies must live in chastity because "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."


The seminary review, called an apostolic visitation, will send teams appointed by the Vatican to the 229 seminaries, which have more than 4,500 students. The last such review began about 25 years ago and took six years to complete.

At each seminary, the visitors are to conduct confidential interviews with every faculty member and seminarian, as well as everyone who graduated in the last three years.

A 12-page document with instructions for the review is now being distributed to seminarians and faculty members. It asks whether the doctrine on the priesthood presented by the seminary is "solidly based on the church's Magisterium," or teaching, and whether teachers and seminarians "accept this teaching." Among the other questions are these:

¶"Is there a clear process for removing from the seminary faculty members who dissent from the authoritative teaching of the church or whose conduct does not provide good example to future priests?"

¶"Is the seminary free from the influences of New Age and eclectic spirituality?"

¶"Do the seminarians or faculty members have concerns about the moral life of those living in the institution? (This question must be answered)."

¶"Is there evidence of homosexuality in the seminary? (This question must be answered)."

The questionnaire also asks whether faculty members "watch out for signs of particular friendships."


"It says to gay priests, many of whom are hard-working, faithful men who live their promises of celibacy with integrity, that you should never have been ordained," he said.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I went to the joint Senate/House hearings on disaster preparedness in Hawai`i this morning, and picked up a few interesting tidbits:

- The airports will shut down within twelve hours of hurricane force winds.
- The busses will change their marquee to read. You can flag one down anywhere on it's route, and get a free ride to the shelter.
- Private companies and tour busses will be used to transport emergency workers.
- The committee members, both Democrats and Republicans, were much more akamai than I was expecting - with one emabarrassing exception.
- I can't be a politician. A lifetime of sitting through hearings like this would kill me.

- We are in serious trouble if a major hurricane hits. It sounds like the evacuation plans, rescue operations, and emergency shelter plans are solid. There was almost no talk of food, water, medical supplies, waste removal, or radio communications. Maybe this was covered yesterday. If not, we will face the same situation as the Gulf Coast. I heard nothing about how we survive if we are cut off from the outside world for any length of time.

Some of the speakers were good. Some were full of bs & got called out. I was a bit miffed at the discussion of the Community Emergency Response Teams. The department was bragging about how 250 people have been trained as CERT first responders. I'm one of them. I got a good training in search and rescue & triaging. Then I was given a hard hat, a vest, and a backpack full of supplies. We are supposed to work in teams, but my team is spread out all over the island. If the hurricane hits, we are on our own.

I guess the plan is: in an emergency, put on the green hat & everyone will acknowledge me as an authority. That should be fun.

Speaking of ... we have our first live one of the season. Depression Ten_E is working it's way west, and gaining strength. It should reach 60 knot winds [Tropical Storm] in t+72 hours, and then maintain through t+120 hours. At that point it will at 145 degrees West, 15 degrees North. Big Island is at 155 W 20 N.

Of the last couple storms to pass 145W: two died out [Darby '98, Estelle '04], two stayed well to the south [Dora and Eugene in '99], and two had us under watch, but eventually missed [Jimena '03 and Daniel '00].

So the odds are still low, but I think all of our eyes are open.

Tracking links are on the right.

Monday, September 12, 2005

te absolvo pecorum

The drama of the season continues to unfold. Picture a chicken fight, with each of the cocks crying about being the victim - and all the while sharpening their spurs. People will get hurt in this fight, but no one seems interested in resolving anything peacefully. I hear it over and over: It's not my issue. And: It's not your problem either. You made a clean break. Let them destroy each other.

It's so different from Ann Arbor, where one person's problem became everyone's problem. When M's drinking got out of control the whole Del Rio staged an intervention. When C's boyfriend gave her a black eye we went to the boyfriend's house that night, told him to pack his bags, and put him on a plane to London. When people fell we picked them up. I still remember the night Ricky - straight, tough, macho, sexy Ricky - kissed me, and told me that we were brothers ... and that he would kill or die for me. And that I would do the same for him.

But that's not how it's played here, not now. When we hear that D. is addicted to ice and is wasting away we mutter about the waste. When R. also starts smoking we don't intervene ... we just warn each other to keep a good distance in case he goes over the edge. We watch, we shake our heads, and we do nothing. It's not my issue.

I don't know what the difference is between today and yesterday. Is it a gay thing? - are we fulfilling the worst of the straight world's stereotypes? A big city thing?- that we don't recognize how interrelated we are? A class thing? - because I was still a working class boy in A2.

Or is it just another sign of the times?

I still believe in loyalty, in brotherhood, and in helping your fellow man. I'll stand by R, even if he turns out to be one of the protagonists. I'll advocate for peace, even though everyone seems set for a fight.

And then I'll get on a plane and go play in the Mediterranean.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Opah Opa!

I would open a restaurant just so I could put that on the menu. I was experimenting with Opah [moonfish] and ouzo, and came up with this. I think that next time I would add a bit more citrus - maybe some orange and lemon zest - and not burn off so much of the ouzo. It was tasty. But then again, opah is one of my favorite fishies.

Moonfish Saganaki
or Opah Opa!

Season 3/4 pound opah with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and oregano.

Saute 2 Tbs diced onion, a bit of habanero, and a small clove of garlic in olive oil. Add fish, and fry on both sides. Add 1/3 cup ouzo. Spread lots of feta on top of the fish. Bring to a boil. Cover pan to melt cheese. Uncover, then ignite.

Stand back.

Scramble to put out fire. Check ceiling for burn marks. Garnish with stuffed olives [I used citrus stuffed haikidiki]. Serve, and eat.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

La Cucina Mexicana

I've been looking for good Mexican in Hawai`i for ten years. I'd chase down every rumor, from the hole in the wall in Wahiawa [the cockroaches are part of the ambience, I was told] to the tequila drenched roast chickens at Ward. I've had nice meals in friends' kitchens, and Carlos showed me a place in Kaua`i that was good; otherwise ... nada. It is a state of canned beans, bulk tortillas, and cheap yellow cheeses.

Nothing here has ever approached some of the amazing dishes I had in Mexico City. But shoots, cuz ... things are starting to change. Three new places have opened within walking distance of my studio, and all are yummy.

Roy and I had lunch at the newest on, Los Chaparros [no link yet], in Mo`ili`ili. It's run by a Mexican guy and his Japanese wife, and staffed by a bunch of hunky cousins from Mexico City. We split a super refreshing pozole, full of big chunks of melt in your mouth pork, then I ordered mojo de ajo, he ordered a tostado. They get huge bonus points from me for offering crusty French bread alongside the corn or flour tortillas. I love being able to spread refried beans across good bread, and this is the first time I've seen it here. I'll be back.

Mi Casa in Monserrat took over my favorite, and seemingly cursed, spot. It's where Zazou used to be. Nice and open to the street. The owner makes thick corn tortillas to order; they're almost like a bread. Their flor de jamaica was the perfect drink on a hot summer day. My only complaint is they don't use oil or lard, but the food still tastes yummy.

And Baja Tacos is right down the road. They serve standard Tijuana style tacos: small tortillas, with bits of meat, cilantro, and salsa on top. This seems to confuse a lot of people - you will be held up in line as customers argue about how it can't be a taco without lettuce and sour cream and cheese. Have patience: the carnitas are crisp, the carne asada tender, and the adobado nice and spicy. All of it tastes super fresh. I think I want one now.

I still have two to check out. La Michoacana in Kaheka intrigues me, and there is supposed to be a place in `Ewa that serves tongue tacos.

It is so nice tofinally have good Latin grinds in Hawai`i.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Snake in the Garden

The call came in at 4am. "Why are you telling everyone on the island awful things about me?"

That woke me up. I ask what the f- he's talking about. He says he's heard. That people have told him all the things I've been saying. I wonder if he's drunk dialing, but he sounds coherent. I tell him to give me specifics, that the conversation isn't making any sense as I know exactly nothing about what the caller has been up to the past month.

And so he tells me, and "the people" turn out to be a single person. I'll call him X. X, who I barely know, much less talk to regularly [perhaps three times in the past year]. X, who - each time I have seen him - has badmouthed my late night caller [he's crazy, he needs to be locked up, his mom needs to come get him, he needs to get off island, he's a problem child]. And apparently he also tells this to the caller's new boyfriend, only claims the words are mine.

It's all so strange. I hardly know this guy. We have a few friends in common, but nothing beyond that. I don't know how or why I ended up on his radar screen. I definitely don't know what his game is, or even why there is a game.

The commonality: all three drink like fish. The easy solution is to wipe my hands of the lot of them. Let them all drink themselves to an early bitter death. But one called me for help, and I've never turned my back on a brother.

I'm wondering why now, out of the blue, I am suddenly surrounded by people with drinking problems. One friend has a theory that 40 is the cut off age for breaking free - that if an alcoholic quits before 40 he has a chance of making it, but if he keeps drinking past 40 the odds of him ever tempering his drinking - much less quitting - are remote. The descent comes quick. Maybe it's just the age, and that my cohorts are suddenly realizing that they are standing on the edge of the abyss.

Six am and I am now wide awake and totally confused.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

ETOH Redux, and Thieves

I'll keep this vague for the sake of confidentiality. I ran into an old friend, who filled me in on the fall of a mutual acquaintance. She's been drinking a lot, and her story was horribly familiar - right down to the smallest details. Addicts always think that they are so unique; it must come as a shock for them to realize how common and cliched their behavior really is.

I went to a GIS conference this morning, and came out to find that someone had stolen the front and rear lights of my bike. That's not easy - they either broke it off or used a screw. I started a mental tally of how many thefts [bikes, surfboards, radios, CD's] and break-ins I've dealt with over the past couple years, and got myself all riled up. For five years here I never locked my front door. Those days are over.

One day I'll come out and bust someone in the act trying to break in my van or unlock my bike. And I think I might snap. I haven't hit anyone full force since my brother and I got in a fight in third grade. I scared myself, and haven't been the aggressor in a fight since. That will change if I catch one of these iced-out social parasites prowling our streets. I have enough built-up anger to pull a full Christopher Soprano on them. I could break bones.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Labor Day Weekend

I've been a bad blogger. I had plenty of adventures this weekend, and I meant to record them while they were fresh. Instead it'll be a Tuesday morning recap.

Friday: Charity, art, and beer

I took Friday off, and was full of plans. I would surf, I would clean the house for the weekend, I would catch up on emails and bills and reading. And I would end the night at First Friday Art Walk. Chinatown has been transformed this summer, with a handful of new clubs and galleries opening along Hotel Street. Downtown has felt like it's been on the verge of making a comeback for a decade, and yet it never does. It will be popular for a month or two, and then slide quietly back into ghetto. I'm hoping that this time there is enough momentum, and critical mass of people, for Downtown to be an exciting place again.

I figured that Labor Day would be a blast, but in the end I almost didn't go. I had been to a committee meeting for Gregory House in the afternoon [I was nominated to the Board a few weeks ago, and this was my first meeting], and there was a frighteningly low level of energy there. I'm used to social workers and community activists being vocal and passionate and exciting. These guys were very sedate. That won't last long with me in the room.

So evening came and I was ready to fade. I almost didn't go, until I got a last minute call from Tom-A-Hawk. Ended up having a great time with him. We gallery hopped a bit, had drinks on the roof of the now popular 39 Hotel, and ended the night at Ke Kai's. I hadn't hung out with Tom one-on-one before, and glad I did - he's cool as hell. I added his blog to my links.

The night went on longer than I expected though - I missed my bus stop, and ended up getting off on the tail end of Kahala. It was a long walk home to Kaimuki.

Saturday: The Great Guppy Massacre, and my second TWoP Con

Today was the day to kill fish. Roy and I had put guppies in the ponds to control mosquito, hoping that the koi and other fish would control the guppy population. It didn't work - the little things are obscenely fecund. Our ponds were turning into guppy soup. I tried to introduce predators to control them - angel fish, cichlids, eels - but the guppies just kept on breeding.

My plan was to put the good fish in a side pond, and drain all the water out of the main ones. Then Haulani came downstairs and busted me. She has no patience for Homo sapiens, but all the love in the world for every other critter on the planet. I won't even spray for roaches if she's watching - I definitely couldn't kill five hundred baby guppies in front of her.

And so we rescued the guppies - each and every one - and moved them to the lily pond. What a long day it turned out to be. I didn't even earn karma points, because when I saw some of the buggers in the pond this morning [I don't know how they escaped us] I scooped 'em up and tossed them right into the bushes.

Night time was our second TWoP Con. We watched Rome, clips of INXS:Rock Star, and The House of the Dead. It was my night to be a geek, just like old times.

Sunday: Ahmed returns, and the Black Party

Hung out with Ahmed all day Sunday - and finally got some color! I grilled him on Turkey [the food, the sights, and the men]. He's off to interview in the Bay Area, and should be out of Guam in a few months. I'm glad for him.

Sunday night was the Black Party - Big Tom's last event in Honolulu. It was strange, as I should have expected. There were naked bears and twinks in make-up and goth-punks hanging themselves from their piercings. The boys were trying so hard to be sexy and decadent, but it was the most un-sexy scene I could imagine.

But I had a great time. Francisco was in town, and it's always fun hanging out with him. Michael Fong spun a great set, but it was hot and smoky inside, so I only ended up dancing about a third of the time. I spent the rest of the night out in the courtyard hanging with friends. I left around 5am, as the sun was coming up.

Monday: um ... I didn't do anything Monday ...

I didn't get many pictures, but do have a few to post.

Escape from New Orleans

Like the rest of the world, I've been horrified at what has happened in New Orleans. Not by the hurricane - disasters happen - but that our government sat by while thousands died. I have never liked or trusted this president, but I never supsected that he was this vile and callous. I almost feel physically ill watching him and his mother joke about the disaster. He's acting all somber and serious now, but it's too late. We've seen who he is. We've seen his family's true colors. They need to leave the American stage now.

I know there are a lot of blogs out there covering the story. This one leaps out.

Michael Homan: One of the Millions of Hurricane Katrina Stories

I survived Hurricane Katrina, but it transformed me. I am a different person. I feel more loved than I did a week ago, and I very much appreciate all of the friends and family and even strangers who both helped me directly and who contacted me to say they were concerned and thinking about me and my family. The world clearly has plenty of empathy and compassion left. I saw people slide down ropes out of helicopters to rescue people from rooftops. I saw my neighbors break into grocery stores, fill up their boats with supplies, and row through neighborhoods distributing food and water to those in need. And as I drove 1000 miles north to escape the carnage, I saw convoy after convoy of people and supplies heading south to help. They are their brother's keeper, and I am so thankful for their support. Maybe there is hope for the world after all.

Much of the heroism affected me directly. Strangers actually risked their lives to save mine, and friends and family did so much to help. Two gentlemen from the Westbank in an airboat transported me and my dogs from the flood waters to dry ground. Firefighters from Phoenix helped a large group of us begin the process of leaving the city. Therese's friends the LaCinas and Kents in Purvis Mississippi hosted her and my children for several days as they rode out the storm. My father-in-law John flew to Jackson Mississippi to help Therese and the kids make it Omaha, Nebraska, where they'll be living and attending school until at least January most likely. My mom went on local and national TV asking for help. Hundreds of friends, even people I haven't spoken to in 25 years, have contacted me to voice their support. Thank you so much, you've touched my heart.

But I also learned that catastrophes such as this bring out not only the very best in people, but also the worst. I have witnessed and experienced some pretty awful things over the past week. I saw dozens of dead bodies floating in toxic waters. I heard about invalid elderly humans dying in attics and hospitals believing that the world did not care as they gradually ran out of medication and oxygen while the politicians gave press conferences about how well Democrats and Republicans were cooperating. I saw sick babies and paraplegics living for five days outside in 100 degree weather, while gangs of armed youths roamed, raped, and terrorized in filthy refugee camps of 20,000 of society's most afflicted and abandoned. These poor people were placed in massive outdoor "security" pens for as many as 6 days, and many of them died. This incredibly large group of people desperately needed food, water and transportation out of New Orleans. The immediate federal response for relief was so incredibly inept it left many of us to wonder if the lack of support was deliberate. This gross inaction while so many people suffered and died occurred in the world's richest country, and it makes me so angry with the government. I heard that Bob Hastert, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, said two days after this tragedy that it made no sense to rebuild New Orleans. He said this while families grieved over death and misery and desperately searched for missing loved ones. I saw drug addicts take over parts of the city and terrorize, and heard that they shot nurses in the back of the head to steal pharmaceuticals to ease their drug withdrawals. And despite what you might read in the news, this wasn't a case of everyone working together to save lives. Officials from neighboring more affluent parishes (counties) than Orleans said that citizens of New Orleans were not welcome in their parishes because they only had enough supplies for their own.

There were certainly elements in this drama of upper classes abandoning those less fortunate. But the disparity in fortune wasn't only about social and financial differentiations. Racism played a large role in this tragedy, I am sickened to say. Sure there were looters and murders and lawlessness, but there is after every hurricane. Heck, the same stuff happens after cities win the Super Bowl. But in New Orleans' case, these recurring images of young men with guns showed black men. Certain relief organizations refused to go in to the New Orleans area until several days after the hurricane, because they said it was "too dangerous," and this heartless refusal to act was devastating to thousands of innocent people. It even cost hundreds of lives. As I lay in my bed surrounded by my flooded city I heard on the radio caller after caller cry out for help and ask why they and their loved ones were not being rescued. People lay in hospitals and nursing homes and starved to death. It occurred to me that it was more complicated than concluding that suddenly the American government was forgetting these impoverished people, these descendants of the slaves who built New Orleans and this country. Instead, I realized that these poor people hadd been forgotten for hundreds of years.

I cried when I heard my mayor Ray Nagin's interview with Garland Robinette on Thursday, August 33. You can read the transcript here and from that sight there is a link so that you can hear it. The part that brought on the tears was about how so many people were dying due to the government's initial lethargy and apathy and how the great city of New Orleans would never be the same again. And much of this could have been prevented in my opinion. Of course we can't prevent hurricanes, but most of the death and destruction came from the subsequent flood after the 17th street levee was breached. The federal government had been warned repeatedly for 20 years that that specific levee was in dire need of attention, yet nobody listened. I believe these politicians were criminally negligent and are partly to blame for much of this. And perhaps now the country will start taking seriously the problems caused by coastal erosion. I hope.

If I hear one more person say "IF they decide to rebuild New Orleans..." I will explode. New Orleans was a great city long before there was even an idea about forming the United States. I know of course that they will rebuild the city. It will never be the same. It will take a great amount of time, money, effort, and patience. For the short future the world is focused on the city, but what about in a year when New Orleans will need so much and attention? Not too many will care then. I thought a great deal over the past week about leaving New Orleans permanently. I'm nearly 40, ripe for a midlife crisis, and this would a great time to move to another place and start over. Life can be very easy outside of the Big Easy. There are few places in this country with as much poverty, poor education, and overall problems. Also, I'm sure that many businesses and people with resources, education, and financial independence will never return, while the impoverished will, as they have no choice. But I think that for me and my family, returning to the devastation of New Orleans offers us a chance to really make a difference in the world. We could help to rebuild the great city that has become our home, and at least make our modest contribution to this Herculean task.

Certainly my relationship with my dogs Kochise and Mosey is stronger. For those who don’t know, I stayed behind with them to ride out the hurricane. It was an amazing experience, and the house outside survived with little damage. However the wind made the house racked, meaning the upper floor was blown so hard that the walls of the bottom floor now lean considerably. But slowly over the next 36 hours the water rose, until by Tuesday evening there was 8 feet of water in our streets, and four feet on our bottom floor. Me and the dogs lived upstairs, and watched from our balcony as people canoed by. I even got my acoustic guitar and played "dueling banjoes" as they passed to evoke images from the film Deliverance. I didn't have direct contact with Therese, though I was able to use my cell phone once in a while to tell family in Omaha I was OK. I kept thinking the water would recede and I could start cleaning out the house, but it never happened. On Wednesday I swam to Xavier University, and I was happy to see that the university as a whole didn't appear to have too much damage, though it was badly flooded. I heard the students were finally evacuated with the help of Jesse Jackson, though I've heard rumors that one student passed away. I don't know the details yet, and I'm so sorry to hear about that tragedy. I don't know how the parents of that student will make it through this trial. I swam to my office and found that it was intact. So I swam home and was going to wait for the waters to recede, and then I would spend half my time working in my office and half my time cleaning the house. I had plenty of supplies, and was planning on experimenting with a diet of only home brewed beer.

But then in the end I left. I learned that my father-in-law was flying to Jackson Saturday, and Friday those guys in the airboat showed up. I was very worried because I had heard that they were not letting people evacuate with their animals. But these guys said that had changed, and so I put my computer and a few papers in my backpack, loaded the dogs, let the birds go, and put Oot the sugar glider with food and water in Kalypso's room to await my return, much like Napoleon leaving for Elba I suppose. We drove in the boat all over the city looking for people. It was so surreal with the helicopters and all the boats up and down Canal Street amidst all the devastation. Towards dusk on Friday I arrived at I-10 and Banks Street, not far from my house. There they packed all of us pet owners from Mid City into a cargo truck and drove us away. They promised they would take us to Baton Rouge, and from there it would be relatively easy for me to get a cab or bus and meet the family in Jackson.

But then everything went to hell. They instead locked up the truck and drove us to the refugee camp on I-10 and Causeway and dropped us off. Many refused to get out of the van but they were forced. The van drove away as quickly as it could, as the drivers appeared to be terrified, and we were suddenly in the middle of 20,000 people. I would estimate that 98% of them were African Americans and the most impoverished people in the state. It was like something out of a Kafka novel. Nobody knew how to get out. People said they had been there 5 days, and that on that day only 3 buses had shown up. I saw murdered bodies, and elderly people who had died because they had been left in the sun with no water for such a long time. I’ve traveled quite a bit, and I have never seen the despair and tragedy that I saw at this refugee camp. It was the saddest think I have ever seen in my life. I am still so upset that there were not hundreds of buses immediately sent to get these people to shelters.

There was a group of officials going around and taking people’s animals away. It was then that I decided to try to escape. I knew there were armed looters outside the camp, but there were inside as well, and I had Mosey, who is a pretty big dog and can be scary when she is barking. I could not have ever told my children that I gave up the dogs to save myself. Officials were not letting anyone past the city of LaPlace to pick up relatives, so I decided to try to sneak out of the camp and walk the 30 miles to LaPlace. On the refugee camp’s perimeter there was a girl named Robin from my neighborhood who wanted to save her cat, and a guy we just met named Carlos who was trying to get to LaPlace, so we teamed up. It was an odd group. Me with two dogs, Carlos who is an African American guy who works in the oil business, and Robin, a skinny white girl who paints movie designs or something like that. So we slipped out at 3 AM and walked along the side of I-10 to Clearview, and then walked through the dark and destroyed neighborhoods until I was on Airline Highway. Amazingly the police never stopped us, I think because we were such a bizarre grouping, and we weren’t shot by the looters or vigilante groups trying to stop them. Fortunately on Airline we found a shopping cart to put the cat inside. We then walked almost to the airport by 9 AM Saturday. But by then I was about ready to give up. My feet were bloody and the dogs were totally exhausted.

Robin had a cell phone, but the batteries were dead. We found a neighborhood that still had power, and then noticed a gas station that had a broken window. Robin climbed inside and charged her cell phone enough to make a call. We knew then that her uncle would be in LaPlace, but concluded he would not be able to make it past the checkpoint. Suddenly miraculous things changed my fortune. Her uncle was retired from the Mississippi government and he had several ID tags, and he was able to finagle his way through checkpoint after checkpoint, and he picked us up, and drove us past LaPlace all the way to Jackson airport, as he lived just a few miles from there. When I got out of the van, there was Therese, her dad, and my children. Then, after an 18 hour drive, we're all safe in Omaha.

I think in approximately two weeks I'll return to New Orleans with my father-in-law, as he is an insurance adjustor and will be sent to the area to work on claims. A few days later Therese will fly down and we'll sort out all of our stuff. We lost a lot of things to the flood, but I don't feel too bad about it. We had too much stuff anyway. Kalypso and Gilgamesh will start in a new school tomorrow, and it was the same school that I attended, which makes me happy in some sense. So like Moses we are strangers, though we are by no means in a strange land.

For now, if you would like to contact us, my email address is, and Therese is We don't have connections to the internet all of the time, but we'll do our best to get back to you. Our daughter Kalypso is especially curious about what happened to her friends.

Finally, thanks again to all those who were thinking about us and keeping us in their prayers.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Caught in that sensual music

Some people get songs stuck in their heads all day. Lately I've been getting fragments of poems. Today it's been Yeats. The problem is I don't actually know the poem - only the first line [though I can hum the rest - heh]. I could try to drive the fragment out of my thoughts, the way you do with irritating tunes. But why fight it, when it is so much more pleasurable to succumb?

Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees -
Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

William Butler Yeats