Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Vindication

I have been circumspect lately. There is a lot going on in my life and much of it has to do with external influences. One of those many influences over which I have no control has to do with the New Orleans Saints football team. The game that the Saints played last week against the reputedly-lowly Cleveland Browns turned out to be one of the worst ever played by a team in the Sean Payton era. At times it looked like the Keystone Follies with one thing after another happening to the Saints and the Browns prevailing in an unanticipated win. Drew Brees threw five interceptions in that one game and he had only thrown five in his previous six games. So, the mention of a "Superbowl Hangover" or a "curse" had been bandied about with greater frequency on TV sports shows and on talk radio. The winning 2009 season buoyed the hopes and dreams of the general populace. Conversely, this year's poor start (4-3) was almost untenable for those of us accustomed to winning games and by lopsided margins. There was a pall upon the city and tonight's game was a must-win for so many reasons, not the least of which was to get back the city's football mojo. Indeed, the Pittsburgh Steelers came prepared to put it to the Saints in their own home field, on Halloween night. The 6-3 halftime score showed how pitched the defensive battle was between the two teams and the gutsiest call was when Coach Sean Payton questioned whether a Pittsburgh Steeler had crossed the plane of the goal and actually scored a touchdown. After a challenge on the field, the referees determined the coach was right. He hadn't scored, but they put the ball on the six-inch line and gave Pittsburgh an opportunity to score again. Miraculously (maybe in was black and gold magic), the Steelers tried to cross the goal on three separate occasions, but were denied on each attempt, finally settling for a field goal. Drew Brees was impressive and his offensive line gave him multiple opportunities to find receivers downfield. In the end the score was 20-10 with the Saints on top. The Saints proved to the NFL they still have it and they proved to the city they still deserve all their support. I am beginning to feel the funk lift from my shoulders. Is it the Saints or some sort of voodoo that's now working? I can't truly say, but whatever it is, I like it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The return

Something strange and wonderful has happened. My words have returned to me. I promise I will explain which words, but first we must travel back in time, approximately five-plus years ago. It is pre-Hurricane Katrina and, like now, I am living in the city of my birth, New Orleans, preparing to visit Cleveland, Ohio. I live for the most part on the second floor of my duplex, but the bulk of my library and extensive record collection is housed downstairs. A small apartment occupies the remainder of the downstairs and I have a tenant, a young divorced man who lives there with his beloved German Shepherd. When the mandatory evacuation occurred, I was away and that fact meant little could be done to save most of my records, CDs, 45s, paperbacks and hardcover volumes which rested on custom constructed shelves there. Because pets are not allowed to evacuate with their owners to the refuge of last resort at the Superdome (this policy has since been changed), my tenant is forced to leave his pet downstairs with a few day's supply of food and water, not knowing the rising waters would drown the animal or that he would end up losing all of his worldly possessions. I am a visitor in Cleveland worried about my home and my city, but forced to watch it from afar, helpless and inadequate. As it turned out, my life would be forever changed by that storm and the flooding that occurred after Hurricane Katrina. I lived and worked there for nearly two years and my return to New Orleans required packing a great many boxes of new possessions coming from my time spent away. In the meantime my housekeeper was able to put away boxes of my possessions that had somehow survived. Since her home was also destroyed, she was away for and unable to return the city for nearly a year, living in Houston and Dallas. However, once she returned to work, she started to put things away for me that had survived the flooding. We were not able to communicate on a regular basis, so whatever she packed away for me was not clearly documented. Between those boxes holding my old items and the new boxes filled with momentos from Cleveland, much of my home has been filled over the course of the last three and a half years with all manner of things largely hidden from view. Just a little over on my second floor entrance way. Inside were my words. To be more specific, inside one of the larger boxes that my housekeeper had put away was my bound edition of my work from 1972 and 1973 as Features Editor and Executive Editor of the Tulane University Hullabaloo, the weekly newspaper over which I labored in my freshman and sophomore years. To say that this volume is irreplaceable is an understatement. How that volume escaped being soaked in the deluge that stood stagnant in my home for nearly three weeks is nothing short of a miracle. When I looked inside it, I found an incredible array of pictures and stories that I had not even thought about in over 36 years. There was the junior Senator from Delaware - a Joseph Biden with hair no less - addressing a forum at Tulane. Also, a story and picture on George Bush, the head of the C.I.A., a full 16 years before becoming President, talking to students. And the president was Richard Nixon. Wow! I cannot believe this volume has mysteriously returned to me, but I know I will treasure it for many years to come.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Coleridge

You've seen it before, but it is an incredible shot.
©2005 Sidney Smith

Today's Blog Action topic is water. Water, the most abundant substance on the planet, is a topic with which all of New Orleans is well aware. After all, the Louisiana Purchase document in 1803 ceded all of the lands owned by France to the United States except for the "Isle of Orleans." We are surrounded by a graceful bend in the Mississippi River to our western, southern and eastern borders and Lake Pontchartrain, the fifth largest U.S. inland lake (not counting the Great Lakes) to our north. Much of the land used for development in the most recent century was reclaimed from former swamp lands. Pumping out water is a big deal here, since much, but not all of the area is beneath sea level. The Mississippi River, which drains 40% of the continental United States, is the main drinking water source for the city. By the time water from the Mississippi River reaches the intake valves for the New Orleans city water supply, it has been used at least 17 times before. As it makes its way down to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River also carries with it 1.5 million tons of nitrogen pollutants. Once they reach the Gulf, they contribute to oxygen-robbed "dead zones" in the waters there, killing scores of fish in the process. Yes, we know water very well here. Perhaps too well. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been charged with the protection of the city from water incursion and has constructed and maintained a series of levees designed to keep the water that surrounds the city away from the bowl of the city. Yet, when those levees were breached due to faulty construction in the hours before and after Hurricane Katrina, the same Corps of Engineers enjoyed immunity from prosecution. Besides, they were too busy building new levees and shoring up the old ones to worry about defending themselves in court. Recently, the British Petroleum oil spill focused the attention of millions of citizens on the waters in the Gulf of Mexico as they watched the deep brown crude ooze out from the blowout preventer on live TV or as streaming video over the Internet. Thankfully, that water is now clear, but there are indications that some areas have been adversely affected and may not recover for decades to come. It is hard to believe that in some areas of Africa and Asia there is no potable water available for human consumption because we have so much water here. As to rainfall, we have much more than we need usually. If one has ever been privileged to behold a tropical downfall of the New Orleans variety, he does not find it easy to circumvent or forgettable. Perhaps the most iconic vision I have of water is the image snapped by my cousin, photographer Sidney Smith, four days after Hurricane Katrina. The photo shows my home with water nearly lapping up to the second floor of my residence. Since I was not there, I can only imagine what it would have been like to have been in the middle of the quiet as the toxic waste and polluted water rose above the cars and lawns of my neighbors. I can't but recall the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and the apropos phrase that residents here would have chosen to utter, to wit, "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink."

Friday, October 8, 2010

New meaning for "putting up your Dukes"

When I first attended college, I will admit I was totally clueless as to how to please women in the way they expected that I would or could. Oh, I knew the basic manual. When it came down to it, I knew which part went where and what the ultimate endgame should be, but lacking significant experience in the realm of pleasing a partner kept my confidence from rising, even if other parts of my anatomy did from time to time. I admit I fumbled my way from one liaison to another until I found what I would term my first true paramour. We enjoyed each other's company immensely and I can say that it was very exciting and reassuring to finally start to get it right. Maneuvering a rendezvous was also dangerous because I lived at home and the girls dormitory in which she lived was strictly off limits to campus males. That extra level of excitement associated with finding a safe place and not getting caught by the campus police or a dorm monitor probably added to the thrill of the chase. So, 35 years later, as I ponder the Homecoming weekend for Tulane University, I am absolutely amazed that so much has changed in the interim. For one thing I just had my son graduate from own alma mater just five months ago. Because of the privacy laws put into place since I attended, he could do pretty much whatever he wanted, remaining unchecked from outside interference from his unsuspecting father or grandmother who administered his tuition. Throughout his entire academic career I never received a copy of his grades and today can only guesstimate what his final grade point average was. What I'm really bemoaning here is that the college students of today have no reins on them; they operate freely and unfettered from much of the outside influence that concerned me. Today chance or casual sexual encounters seem to occur with much greater frequency than in my day. It appears that girls are becoming sexually active at younger and younger ages and scientific evidence suggests they are entering puberty at ever younger ages too. So-called "booty calls" and "friends with benefits" would have been welcomed by my cronies and me had the times allowed them, but the sad truth is that we weren't smart enough to invent the concepts or have partners that would have agreed to engage in rampant sexual activities so frivolously. Fast forward to present time. Today we have cell phones with cameras that can capture nude photos or shoot videos in the most private of places. Young generations use texting or send sexually explicit materials through cell phones attached to the Internet, which can then be posted online or sent to non-intended sources. "Sexting" occurs with much greater frequency than we might believe and once the item has been posted, it never truly goes away. Knowing all of this, I would have expected to be non-plussed when Duke graduate Karen Owen's pretend seniors honors thesis went viral over the Internet the past few days. Titled "An education beyond the classroom: excelling in horizontal academics," the pseudo work was leaked from one, two or all three of the friends to whom she had sent the sexually charged materials including pictures, bar charts and rankings of her college hookups according to member sizes and sexual prowess. The fact this was a woman unashamedly having sex, using men and objectifying them in oh-so-many ways was revelatory and compelling. When she was contacted by different sites like Jezebel who posted the piece, she was described as contrite. She apologized to all the men she may have hurt by sending the piece to her friends, but she maintained she had not authorized the fake thesis to have gone anywhere else than the three friends to whom she had sent it. She did not apologize for having sex and did not feel embarrassed about her comments. Asked the inevitable question, she admitted she would be happy to do it all over again on as many occasions and with as many positions as she enjoyed previously. The simple truth is that the worm has turned. Owen knows that the chance she will be sued is very slight, especially when most of the postings of the PowerPoint slideshow she sent out have been modified to hide the faces of the male subjects and redacted so that texts will not identify them. Had this been a male publishing a list of his sexual conquests, there is little doubt from me there would have been an uproar and several suits aimed at picking the pockets of the satyr or knocking him down a peg or two. With the exception of the hapless fellow who got a score of three out of ten, most of the men would be pleased to read how well she was pleased. Yet, there is a sense to this incident that what is sauce for the gander is also good for the goose. The men she had sex with were almost all athletes on the Duke lacrosse and baseball squads. They could accurately be described as buff and very physically fit. While it doesn't matter, Owen is extremely attractive in her own right. To be fair, though, the protection of both sexes needs to be enforced from such unintended publicity and what is clearly an invasion of their privacy. The days of men bragging in the locker room has given way to women getting even on the Internet. Colleges will be looking to see how they fit into this new formula. I'm not sure they want their campuses to be seen as the canvas on which countless women will now paint their portraits of revenge. Suppose the guy with the three out of ten ranking does sue. What if the next release is from a college fraternity ranking the figures of the sorority members they have inducted into their...ahem...membership. The big question is does this mean that Duke and other colleges and universities in an effort to distance themselves might now require their new students to agree not to publish such salacious material in the future? Inquiring minds and friends with benefits might want to know.