Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fall 2008

Another successful season of Big Easy livin'. This Fall was ushered in by my marriage proposal to Lauren in Audubon Park. The park was designed by John Olmsted during the City Beautiful era of the early 1900's. Olmsted also designed the park I played in as a child and the campus for my university, UW. So I guess I owe that guy. I spent a lot of time picking out the ring, but realized just as I was about to propose that I hadn't thought of what exactly I was going to say. Fortunately I had seen enough movies to have a rough idea. With the fateful words "Here goes nothing" I turned the corner from my bachelor days.

A few weeks after the proposal Hurricane Gustav hit New Orleans. This was our first major hurricane, and we tried to be prepared. Because the city is pancake flat, there was no place to put our second car in case of evacuation. Eventually I paid to park on the fourth floor of a parking garage downtown. Also, we were moving apartments at exactly the same time as we were preparing to evacuate. This means moving all the furniture over and then carrying it up to the second floor to protect from flooding. What a pain.

Lauren's father researched good information about hurricane-formation. It appears that the strength of hurricanes is largely determined by the length of its time over hot water. The temperature of the Gulf of Mexico can be measured and so it is possible to roughly predict how strong a hurricane will be as it comes to land. Because pollution from the Mississippi has caused a dead-zone in the Gulf, the average temperature has been increasing over the years.

Where a hurricane lands is also becoming more of a science than an art. Data from the National Hurricane Center shows that, more or less, meteorologists can determine where a hurricane will land by a ratio of 50 miles per day. In other words, if the hurricane is two days away they can determine its landing location with a margin of error of 100 miles; if the hurricane is three days away it can be predicted with a 150 mile margin of error. As for Gustav, I didn't want to leave. But since I live with one woman, two cats, and a lizard I was outnumbered and I took my place in the 13-hour traffic jam out of the city.

School began just before the hurricane and ended just a couple of days ago--that's how I finally have time to update this blog. It was a great semester. Coming from the North I didn't learn much about slavery in school. Now I feel that American history can't be understood with taking into account the role of slavery on the economy and culture. I also studied urban history and American history from 1890-1940. Forgive me if I don't go into too much detail on my subjects as I have just finished finals and the thought of writing about them makes me ill. So, upward on onward.

Tennis and racquetball have been my two biggest sports this fall. This is largely by default as the basketball gym at UNO is still under repairs from Katrina. I know, I know it has been three years, but this is New Orleans and things get done when things get done--if they ever get done. I love both of my new sports. The only thing is that they might be too similar. The swing for both sports is distinct and I find myself using a racquetball swing on the tennis court and getting into trouble. But I suppose if that is my biggest problem life is going pretty good. And it is.

Oh, I almost forgot. We took an incredible trip this Fall to Corsica, France. I have been to some beautiful places, and this island is something special. There seems to be the perfect balance between nature and civilization. The hotel we stayed at was made by stones in the 1700's and used to be a goat-herder's home. Along the skyline was visible remnants of fortifications built during the Napoleonic Wars. We had this opportunity because Lauren's sister, Lisa, was getting married on the island. It was an incredible wedding. For any wannabe romantics out there, put Corsica high on the list.

As we head into winter, Christmas is on the mind. Here is my Christmas wish-list for everyone who is just dying to get me that perfect gift:

A's in all my classes
Clay Bennett mistakenly walking into a bar where I've been drinking
The ability to fly

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Summer 2008

The end of the school year brought on a new chapter in my New Orleans experience. I wasn't returning to work at ISL the next year so my summer started with a job search. In the end I chose to work for Kaplan Test Prep. It should be a fun and stimulating way to earn some bucks.

There was a lot that happened this summer. On the family side of things we went to visit Seattle. My niece and nephews are getting so big. The boys demonstrated their bravery by licking the trees in the public park. Was I supposed to have stopped that? Also, my cousin Sam came down to visit and we had a great time playing sports, watching the olympics, and getting scared by alligators.

Athletically, I picked up a new sport. Right in the midst of learning tennis I was persuaded to try racquetball. This sport had always repelled me in the past. It just reeked of middle-aged men sweating their fat asses off. That coupled with the attire of headbands and protective goggles was enough to count me out. But, good sport that I am, I agreed to play with my friend Devin once. Well, I love it. I don't think we have played tennis since.

I am still not that good but I enjoy the fast pace of the game. It looks like I am becoming "Sweaty Old Guy Playing Racquetball." I already am the the guy at the basketball court with too short of shorts. Like me, my cousin Sam also really likes racquetball. Not like me, he is pretty good at it. He came to visit and we enjoyed canoeing and watching the Olympics.

What else? I finished watching the Sopranos series. I am embarrassed that I watched that much television, but it was pretty good. That and we welcomed yet another pet into the house, Selah. So we are now a happy family of two people, two cats, and a lizard.

The summer wrapped up with a visit from Gustav. That stupid gust of wind caused me to miss the second week of school and haul way too much furniture up to the second floor. So here we are, in Fall. I wish I had more details to write about the summer but, truth be told, the Louisiana heat melted my memory.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hornets Fever

May was dominated by Hornets basketball. Several nights a week were dedicated to watching their games. I was lucky enough to attend most of the home games because my neighbor and buddy, Erik, works for the team. For the away games I saddled up at a nearby bar with some buddies. The playoff run was incredible and although we eventually lost to the despicable Spurs, I think the team has a bright future with Chris Paul at the helm.

It was funny for me to find myself becoming a Hornets fan. Since the glory days of Ricky Pierce I have bled the green and gold of the Sonics, but the new ownership and their impending move to Oklahoma City has really soured that loyalty. I suppose having tickets to see the Hornets live helped ease the transition; it was fun to watch the season progress from nearly deserted stands to a screaming sea of orange during the playoffs. Like everything in the Big Easy, going to games is mellow. I can drive from my house and park in my secret spot near the arena in about 10 minutes.

On May 27th I turned twenty-nine. To celebrate, Lauren took me on a fun trip to Pensacola. The beaches here are miles long of white sand and are home to some decent surf. The town itself was a funny mix of beach and hick culture. Picture a good ol' boy in cut-off jean shorts and a camaflouge hat. Now picture him with sandals, Oakleys, and a surfboard. We passed our time here playing miniature golf, racing go-carts and eating at Cracker Barrel.

To wrap up the month, let me introduce you to Ignatius, our new cat. He is black and white and about two months old. My old cat, Killer, was the greatest cat that ever lived, so Iggy has some big shoes to fill. So far, he gains points for being funny and running around the house. But he loses points for waking me up in the middle of the night by scratching me in the face and then running off.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spring Break and...School?

It's not a good sign when you have to ask yourself, "Okay. What did I do this month?" Unfortunately, my lack of vivid mental images from the month stem from stupidity and not an abundance of nights on the town. And, after a moment of recollection, some important things did happen in April.

I went down to Los Angeles and visited family during Spring break. It had been a while since I had seen my uncle Paul and the gang, so that was great. The highlight was seeing my cousin Jenny ride an orca during a show at Sea World--undoubtedly the coolest job in the world.

My gramma and my cousin Sam also flew down, making this a relatively large family event for us. My gramma has always been independent and bright; she earned a degree in chemistry in an era where serious analytic thinking was regarded as men's territory. Now in her eighties, she is still sharp. Sam and I have always been close friends and we spent our time at the driving range and shooting range goofin' around with uncle Paul.

In addition to the family-time, I made some headway this month on the academics front. I got accepted to the Master's of History program at the University of New Orleans. The school is small, local and seems like the perfect fit. As I did research on the school I learned that the current professors are pretty legit and that there is an excellent pedigree at the school: American History icon Stephen Ambrose taught here. So, needless to say, I am pretty stoked. It has been a few years since the ol' UW and I'm feeling ready to hit the books again. Go Privateers!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Indians, Fish, and Clinton

March has been an eventful month for us. We have both been busy with work and, as always, interesting things have been happening in the city. One of the highlights was the Mardi Gras Indian's "Super Sunday" parade. The Mardi Gras Indians are groups of black people dressed in elaborate costumes in honor of the refuge local Indian tribes offered runaway slaves in the 1700's. Originally these events were violent affairs, a time to establish dominance and territory. Today the confrontation is largely limited to verbal exchanges and competition to see who has the best suit. This tradition is a colorful part of New Orleans's unique cultural heritage.

If you are going to live in New Orleans, you gotta eat crawfish. Lots of 'em. My buddy Devin and I have been feasting on pounds of the little lobster look-alikes. The first step to eating crawfish is learning how to do it. First, you grab the body. Second, you twist the tail off. Third, you pinch the meat out of the tail. Last, you suck the juice out of the head (optional). This ritualized feast is usually accompanied by potatoes, corn, garlic, and/or beans and rice. I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of two crawfish joints: Captain Sal's and The Big Fisherman. If you are planning on coming down to visit, you just might want to time your arrival with crawfish season.

Bill Clinton came to town to continue the development of the Clinton Global Initiative. This organization strives to encourage effective philanthropy. His latest book "Giving" can be seen as a manifesto of Clinton's vision for non-governmental activism. Clinton thinks private citizens are now in a position to enact change regardless of the current political climate. He is right, of course. Social change has historically been enacted largely through individuals outside government, and the technology of today allows us greater opportunity to get informed about and participate in activism around the world.

We had great seats to see him speak. The tickets were free and there weren't any lines; Saint Paddy's day was the top draw that Saturday. Amazingly, there were no security checks. What's with that? Anyway, Clinton was not as good a speaker as I had anticipated. Perhaps I was expecting too much, but there has been a legacy of charisma and eloquence associated with him that led me to this expectation. He did well with the talking points but floundered when he attempted to bring in disparate subjects such as psychology, history, and science to support his message. My hope is that he was preoccupied with not saying anything controversial to upset his wife's presidential bid.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Jean Lafitte National Park

This past weekend Lauren and I went to the Barataria preserve. It is located about a half-hour out of town and is part of the Jean Lafitte national park. There are close to 20,000 acres to explore by foot or canoe and the wildlife is incredible.

During two hours of easy walking we encountered 6-7 alligators, 5 large snakes, several snapping turtles, sturgeons, and innumerable lizards. It was surreal. In all my experiences in the wilderness of the West, I have never been surrounded by such an abundance of wildlife. Although I was nervous about the prospect of encountering alligators, their lethargic attitude put me at ease. I am hoping to rent a canoe soon and explore the areas' waterways.

The park has an interesting history, too. Jean Lafitte was a pirate during the early 1800's. He prospered as a smuggler of goods and slaves. Bayous in what is now the Barataria preserve were his primary routes of transport. His skill and knowledge of the area made it impossible for the government to capture him and he acquired prominent notoriety.

This reputation is complicated with a closer look at the era. President Thomas Jefferson passed an Embargo Act that prohibited trade in 1807. The economy suffered mightily and many smugglers insisted that they were honest businessman forced into an unlawful position through poor governance. Indeed, Jefferson later acknowledged that the embargo had been a bad idea.

Lafitte added further intrigue to his reputation with his actions in the War of 1812. The English offered him significant money for his assistance, but he warned the Americans instead. The army was skeptical and went forward with an attack against his camp. Eventually General Andrew Jackson accepted Lafitte's assistance and his crew's performance at Chalmette was integral to the victory in this decisive battle. Today he is remembered as a mysterious legend. His disjointed legacy as a patriot/pirate is appreciated enough to, well, to name a national park after.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mardi Gras

Copious ammounts of urine and vomit. Fights. Semi-naked girls and alcoholism in the air. This is the image I was dreading/aniticipating(I'm not gonna say which) before experiencing my first mardi gras. The reality was much different.

We live right off St. Charles, so that means we were basically surrounded by parades for a week straight. All attempts to navigate through the city required a map, a schedule of parades, and we still got stuck in horrible traffic. It appears the best mardi gras strategy for living in Uptown is to buy groceries early and just ride the wave. Consider that week a break from the world. So, what was it like being so close to the parade routes? Pretty mellow.

Our experience at the parades was similar to going to a County Fair. The majority of the people around us were with their families and the atmosphere was friendly. At night it became more wild, but the alcohol consumption still was similar to being at a concert. Now, we didn't go to Bourbon St. Maybe down there all hell broke loose. But I don't really understand how Bourbon St. became associated with mardi gras in the first place; none of the parades go in that direction.

We also celebrated Lauren's 30th birthday. One of her good friends from Seattle, Brooke, was in town. We did the usual dinner and presents but the agreed upon highlight was witnessing a girl-fight in the mall that required police intervention. And, to save the the best for the last, I want to introduce the newest member of our family........

My new chameleon Claudia. This most excellent specimen of nature's creativity has rotating eyes, changes colors, and can shoot her tongue out to catch her food. They say man was made in God's image, but don't you think if you were God you would be able to change colors? Welcome Claudia!

Saturday, January 5, 2008


My twin brother Thomas and my mom came down to visit us over Christmas. It was really nice to have them here. Thomas gave me a timer for chess, something that-lame as it sounds-is something I've always wanted. My mom gave me...well, my mom tried to dress me up as a sixty-something golfer. Nothing says "I love you" like a Rodney Dangerfield outfit. Lauren got me, in an amazing coincidence, a very nice chess set. Well, I could go on and on about my gifts but I hear that for some people Christmas isn't all about presents. Different strokes, I suppose.

This is a picture of my mom in her new shades. Pretty stylish for 37, huh?

This is my mom, Tom, and Lauren standing at the sight of "Make it Right". This is an artistic fund-raising and development effort by Brad Pitt to rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina. If you see how little has been done in the last two years, it will break your heart.