Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina aftermath, inevitable post (?)

Instead of being asleep as I should because I have class at 8 AM and a 3.5 hour drive to Dallas tomorrow afternoon, here I sit writing about the Katrina aftermath.

No, I don't think New Orleans looters should be shot on sight. Even if they are carrying out TVs.

At first, I was mighty peeved by New Orleans people that I believed had ignored the evacuation order. After reading various posts and stories, it's becoming clear that many people didn't leave because they couldn't. I've read (couldn't verify with a couple minutes of Google search though) that airlines cancelled flights out, Greyhound ended service, and by and large there was no means of public transport out of the city. If you didn't have a car, it was the Superdome or stick it out, and with officials on TV expressing some reservations on the soundness of the Superdome under those conditions, it's perfectly understandable that some people saw no other option than to stay home. Even if they had the means to leave and refused, let's not be so callous as to leave them where they are as some have suggested.

My ire is reserved for the city, state, and federal officials who did not adequately prepare for this eventuality and the general blase attitude towards the destruction of wetlands through out the Gulfcoast that would have helped mitigate. The Independent has a great, succinct article about it. And gee I wonder how much less awful this would be if all those guardspeople in Iraq were home, ready to mobilize?

I wince a little when I see public officials and others use the phrase "our tsunami" to describe this tradgedy. While terrible, they don't compare. For the tsunami victims there was no opportunity for evacuation, the death toll was above 250,000, and it affected countries without the wealth and infrastructure of the US. Still, it's likely to be the worst natural disaster for the US in modern history.

Leaving aside all the people wounded or ill directly from Katrina and its aftermath, I can't help but think of all the previously ill people throughout the region and the desperate straits they're in. Diabetics without insulin. People needing dialysis. Cancer patients who's chemo and radiation have been disrupted. I've read about generators failing at hospitals and med staff having to ventilate patients by hand. What a hellish situation.

A couple Texas colleges are offering to take in students displaced by Katrina. Rice will allow registered Tulane students to attend available Rice classes for free. TSU is accomodating students as well. More details in this Houston Chronicle story. I wonder if UT-Austin will be making any such offers (no sarcasm intended)? Colleges in other states are making similar offers.

As noted elsewhere, New Orleans Times-Picayune is doing a tremendous job of reporting the news on their website despite having evacuated from their offices. They've also set up a message board to help people find family and friends.

This Craigslist page made me cry. I'm a cynical person when it comes to human behavior, so news of looting and carjacking wasn't surprising to me. Displays of altruism like the ones on Craigslist Katrina resources however give me hope and somehow that results in tears. Not sure if even I understand it.

Finally, a crisis manager is holed up in his company's building in New Orleans with some others and blogging his group's experience. They also have a live webcam showing the view outside and are being mentioned on CNN. He just posted that the city is under martial law, many NO police have quit their jobs, and some stranded people are shooting at rescue crews(?!).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Last night some friends and I went to see Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, otherwise known as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. I've been raving about it for years, so it wasn't difficult to convince people to see it at the Paramount, a grand old theater downtown.

The film is interesting for several reasons. First, it's an operetta. That is, all the dialogue is sung, as opposed to musicals, where songs interupt spoken dialogue and the whole thing is trite and annoying. I don't care for musicals for the most part, but when the first few lines of a movie sung in French are about car repair, I'll make an exception.

Second, the female lead ends up pregnant out-of-wedlock at 17, and yet she is not scorned for it. Her mother even jokes about it. Either mores in 1964 France were less strict than I expected or writer/director Jacques Demy was a bit ahead of his time.

Third, the intense color in the set design and costumes. The film was rereleased in 1994 with the original, sumptuous color restored and it's gorgeous. Pink and green striped wallpaper? Absolutely.

Lastly, the film stars Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo. Dang they are nice to look at in quite a different way than the previously mentioned wallpaper. Also, I love hearing the characters sing their names Geneviève (zjawn-VEEV) and Guy (GEE).

In reading about the film, I discovered that none of the lead or main supporting characters actually sang for the soundtrack. Geneviève's voice is not Deneuve, but rather Danielle Licari, a popular singer at the time. Other characters voices are listed here. I never would have guessed. Demy did a great job casting voices that matched the physicality of the actors.

The film is a dated of course and at times, laughable to our contemporary sensibilities--the scene where Geneviève and Guy "float" down the street had the Paramount audience giggling--and yet it's observation of first love is entirely relevant to a modern audience.

I highly recommend seeing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (it's available on DVD). You'll likely be humming the bittersweet theme song for days after.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Last days in VT & NH

The impetus for this whole trip was Dad wanting me to see where he grew up and where my antecedents are buried. On Monday, Dad took me on a tour of family homes and graveyards. I was game for it, but wasn't expecting the many hours of driving and walking around what is actually a smallish town, St. Albans.

Things would have been a whole lot simpler if my grandparents had stayed in one place, but my grandmother in particular continuously moved Dad and my two aunts from house to house. During the three years my grandfather was serving in WWII, they moved roughly ten times. Argh.

Still, it was cool to see where my father and his parents grew up and to realize that I come from farmer stock only three generations back.

Speaking of, here's a typical small Vermont dairy farm:


The cows are on the other side of the buildings.

It was too calm to sail on Lake Champlain, but I did get to see the lake weed harvester at work.

Removing lake weed

On Tuesday morning, we got up early so we could drive North to the border before heading for the airport. I've never been to Canada and there was my chance, not 20 minutes away. My father fumbled a bit in his explanation to the Canadian authorities, who became suspicious of why a Florida resident would be taking his Texas-residing son across the border just for the hell of it. Dad tried again and we were off into Southern Quebec.

Since it was so close, we went to the church graveyard where my great-great grandparents are buried. Le cri dehors à Moise et à Delima, grands vous lève tout.

Hmm, that was supposed to say "Shout-out to Moise and Delima, big ups y'all." I think I like Google Translate's version better, "The cry outside with Moise and Delima, large picks you up all."

After a few minutes, and an amusing scene where a mother called her mullet-ed son home in French (but of course!), we headed back to the US. The border patrol on the US side was friendly and casual as he let us through. My dad nicely asked him about his almost blase manner, to which he responded, "Hey, you're US citizens. I'm border patrol, not customs." How droll.

Several hours of driving later, Dad dropped me off at the Manchester, NH airport for the return flight.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Today my Dad and I drove from Southern Connecticut, through Massachusetts, to Northern Vermont. Despite travelling the length of three states, it was still a shorter trip than if I were to leave Austin to exit Texas any direction but due East towards Louisiana. All I'm saying is, I live in a big-ass state and New England people who complain about distances have a very skewed perspective.

Dad was all giddy about showing me how his laptop could be hooked up to a GPS unit. Terribly geeky and quite useful if lost.

It was on the way and I was curious, so Dad and I stopped at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT. It's incredible; huge rooms, luxurious amenities for the time, and interiors by Tiffany and other Associated Artists.

Mark Twain House

Built in 1873, it was a technological marvel for the time with central heat, flushing toilets, and a telephone. The tour is fascinating and ends in Sam Clemens' billiard room where he also wrote. When the guide pointed out the table at which he wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn among other works, I teared up a little bit. No cameras are allowed inside, though you can see pictures at this floorplan.

The museum on the grounds had an exhibit of Clemens' library. He often wrote in the margins of his books, typically scathing commentary. An example:

Mark Twain notation

It reads (with Clemens' comments in brackets), Plutarch's Lives of Illustrious Men translated from the Greek [into rotten English] by John Dryden , the whole carefully revised and corrected [by an ass]. The note on the left reads, "When you come across the pronouns he and him in this slovenly book, you will never know to whom they refer. But never mind—-neither does God."

Here's a hilarious quote regarding Jane Austen:

Twain's hatred of Jane Austen

There's a treasure trove of great quotes, including a few more about Austen.

After that, we drove almost straight through to St. Albans, VT. Along the way, my father regaled me with voluminous description of Vermont and its problems as he sees it, which includes few job opportunities, stodgy farmers opposed to everything, and extreme naivete about the rest of the country. Dad told me about guys that are proud they have never been out of the state their whole lives. Yeesh.

Vermont, much like Arkansas, is incredibly green and beautiful; then there's the people. The majority of the population falls into three categories: dirty hippy Phish-heads, dairy farmers, and what my father refers to as "New England hillbillies". I am exaggerating a bit of course, there's also nine Black people.

The small towns in Western Connecticut and Massachusetts are almost unbearably charming, rather like Gilmore Girls' fictional town Stars Hollow. Cross the border into Vermont and you immediate see trailer homes. My father chalks it up to a lack of taste and pride. I suspect it has to do with economics.

My favorite Dad rant was about the coalition of "I'm aginit" farmers and nature-lovers opposed to putting wind turbines on the hilltops. "It will ruin the view", they say. This is a state that cares very much for "the view". There are no billboards in Vermont. It's really wonderful until one runs up into the reality of energy production. I was close to writing a sarcastic letter to the editor noting my sadness that "the view", while free of wind turbines, would soon be obscured by clouds of smoke from coal and wood fires.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

CT Day 1: Goodbye NYC, hello family

After sleeping in and shaking my illness, I finally got up and bid goodbye to Brad & Anja

Brad & Anja
(Anja's dress is actually green, thanks new camera color-swap function!)

and Virgil, the bestest dog ever.


Then I was off to my Aunt & Uncle's house in Southern Connecticut. Through sheer coicidence, I planned my trip so that I would be at their house on my Uncle Robert's birthday. Three of my cousins were there too and my dad drove down as well. It was a blast as usual. My cousins are loud and argumentative, so we get along famously.

We covered a range of topics: the tragedy that is this Presidential administration, how incredibly liberal/progressive and therefore naive they believe me to be (anti-Walmartization, anti-border patrol vigilanteism), various misbehaviors in which my cousins engaged.

The last was aptly illustrated by Bobby, who related the time that he and his brother Buddy were rough-housing and broke their bunk beds. As punishment, my Aunt tied them to their beds (shades of Joan Crawford). Though, it was with silk scarves. So all things considered, not that bad.

After many beers, and an extended conversation on the oddity of our dead relative's names (Urgel, Alcide, Delima, Moise), my cousins went home and I went to bed.

Friday, August 12, 2005

NYC Day 3: Superhero supplies, bad art, and a great meal with friends

Didn't get much done today either. Lunch with my friend Jay at Patsy's, a venerable pizza place that only takes cash. What's up with that? I realize that businesses actually lose a transaction fee when they take credit cards, but cash only? That's just haughty. Good pizza though.

Next I went to Brooklyn Superhero Supply, a deeply cool store that supports the fantastic work of 826 NYC.

Brooklyn Superhero Supply

Brooklyn Superhero Supply

Yes, they have a Capery. You don a potential cape and stand on an elevated platform as a wind machine blows. It's just friggin' brilliant. If I was kid, this store would be heaven. More photos here.

Just enough time to get out to PS1 before it closed. Having never been on my previous trips to NYC, I was excited about seeing the building and a show of new works. Building? Cool. Show? Meh. Waaaay too many poorly executed video installations, though there were a couple I liked. There was an overall lack of craft and technique in the show. I love modern, abstract art, but please kids, don't just glue a bunch of crap together (or melt glass bottles and feathers into a slag heap) and expect me to be impressed.

Dinner with Jay and his fiance Jasmine, who is warm and lovely, at a sushi place. Yummy, crunchy, fiery, with green tea mochi to top it off. Wonderful. Except I felt the imminent signs of illness coming on: fever, body aches, a scratchy throat.

Back to Brad & Anja's for roughly 11 hours of sleep.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

NYC Day 2: Margaritas, filthy jokes, and fake lesbians

Got up very late today. I realize now that while working a bunch of overtime right before a vacation provides funds to purchase a wonderful camera, it also leaves one exhausted during said vacation. Oh well.

Went downtown for some Mexican food with my great friend and host Brad. I know it's a bit silly to be in NYC and go out for Mexican when I live in Texas, but Brad was craving it and I have to admit that the strawberry margaritas were incredible. Already tipsy, we bought a Sparks* and went to see "The Aristocrats".

Conceived by comedian Paul Provenza and magician Penn Jilette, it is a feature-length film about one joke, but oh what a joke. It's actually rather lame in set-up and punchline, but the magic comes in the middle section where the teller is free to improvise, the more obscene and vile the better. The comedians in the film by turns tell their own version and dissect it, getting at the heart of why it's lasted so long as a right-of-passage for comics.

Aside from the sheer gall of the comics, what I am most impressed by is the editing. Emery Emery and Paul Provenza have taken a huge amount of footage (amateurishly shot and unevenly lit) and constructed it into a cohesive film. Every time it starts to get bogged down by the umpteenth telling of the joke, they move on to someone who provides a new context or insight into the nature of humor. Really great pacing.

After the movie, we went to a bar that coincidentally had an exhibit of Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo) art.

Devo hat postcard

Two other examples here and here.

At the bar we proceeded to drink more and hang out with people we did not know. They were okay until the girls started making out as a birthday present for one of the guys. Sigh. I offered that the guys should then make out for the girls but only Brad laughed. Soon after we headed home.

* In case you were wondering, Sparks tastes like Nerds candy and keeps you buzzed quite nicely.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

NYC Day 1: the city, Devo, and short guys

Today I flew into New York City on the first day of my trip East. I've been to New York many times and I always feel a rush as the plane approaches LaGuardia Airport. Coming in from the South, the flightpath looks like it will take me right over Manhattan. Just as it reaches the island though, the plane banks around to the West and then North, circling Manhattan and Queens, offering a overture of the streets I'll walk soon. I love NYC.

It took a bus and two subway transfers to get me to my friend Brad's office in Manhattan, and it was a pleasure. It reminds me again that I've got to move to a city with a good public transportation system. So much better than driving and parking. Dropped my bags off with Brad, ate a quick dinner, and then walked to the Hammerstein Ballroom to see Devo.

I've been a Devo fan for a long time and this was to be first time seeing them live. They didn't disappoint. Sure they were grayer and fatter, but damn they sounded great. There should be a setlist here soon.

I didn't take my camera as the venue and tickets make it perfectly clear that they weren't allowed. And then there were many people snapping away during the show. I hate when this happens. All I ask for is consistency. Anyway, this set of photos is from the show. After a few songs, Mark Mothersbaugh started ripping pieces of the radiation suits off his bandmates during a song. They then discarded them playing the rest of the show in these outfits.

I was pleased to see a mix of ages at the show. Devo-aged dorks, 30-ish dweebs, and collegiate geeks were all represented. Also, there were women. It leads me to think that Devo is safely ensconced in the canon, though I really wish the greater populace would know them for music beyond "Whip It".

After about 50 minutes of playing, their drummer somehow injured a finger on his left hand. I suspect he either jammed it or dislocated it given that his drum tech ran out and taped two fingers together. He gamely finished the song and one more before the band left the stage. After he was more thoroughly taped up, they returned for several more songs with Josh pulling a . What a trooper. I suspect the show was cut a little short due to his injury, but they finished well with "Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy". For another take on the show, read this guy's account.

With a smile plastered across my face, I hustled over to Nowhere Bar for . Hosted by David Yarritu and Stephen Merritt (Magnetic Fields, et al), it's an attempt, in Stephin's words, "to fetishize short people. And this is a particularly good place for it because the ceilings are so low." When you walk in, Stephin slaps a nametag on you pre-printed with your height.

Initially I was wary that I would be crashing the party as I'm 6' tall, but I was assured that everyone was welcome. I wasn't out of place at all. From the look of it, the average height was 5'8". Hung out for a bit chatting with friends and scored this t-shirt from Mr. Merritt:

Runt t-shirt

I'll have to be careful where I wear that shirt. Although, considering that I was propositioned by female prostitutes twice on my way to Runt, I should probably start wearing similar shirts more often.

Technorati tags: , ,

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Last day at the hospital, for now

My last day of work at the hospital was uneventful. Following the recommendation of my co-workers, I slacked off a bit and chatted with everyone. I didn't have charged batteries for my brand-new camera, so I didn't take pictures. I'll come back after my vacation and take some late at night when others aren't paying attention.

While others were melancholy over my leaving, I was jubilant. Sure I'll miss the money, but having a vacation before school starts again is going to be great. I'll be back next Spring anyway.

I'll miss:

- Learning something new almost every day
- The dark humor of my co-workers
- Leaving on cool, starry nights after a long day
- The focus and energy when a serious case comes in

I won't miss:

- Patients in the waiting room asking every 15 minutes how long before they are seen
- Ill-conceived managerial projects
- Off-kilter sleep patterns
- The smell of infected feet

Monday, August 08, 2005

Taser prong stuck in his head

That's about it really.

Technorati tags: , ,

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Sadness in The Real World

Kids, please stopping shuttling back and forth from your house to 6th St. I beg of you. There are sooo many places at which to eat better than Paradiso. Better at which to drink than The Dizzy Rooster (though you will have to actually pay for your drinks). The camera person running aroung town grabbing shots of the 360 Bridge, the giant Austin postcard mural, and Barton Springs for B-roll is seeing Austin at its best. Follow her (or him).

The only time you seem to leave the east side of downtown is for your documentary production meetings. So hop on a bus.

Speaking of the documentary, it's weird to see SXSW staffers that I've known for years on MTV. Hey there Elizabeth, Leslie, Brent, and other person I didn't get a good look at.


All that talk about skipping through all the house drama went out the window for this week's episode. On Valentine's Day, Danny gets a call from his father that his mother died. Just horrible. I have to commend the rest of the kids for being decent and not saying anything dumb.

From the looks of the preview for next week, B/M Prod just had to intrude on the Jamieson family's grief. Bastards. Leave the kid alone.

I suppose it's not much of a spoiler to say that despite the previews, Danny doesn't leave Austin for good.

Technorati tags: , ,

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Augusten Burroughs sued

A favorite writer of mine, Augusten Burroughs is being sued by the family portrayed in his hilarious yet disturbing memoir Running with Scissors.

Sent by his mother to live with her psychiatrist's family, Burroughs time with the Turcottes (identified as the Finch family in the book) was both nightmarish and great fun. The Turcottes are claiming that parts of the book are fictional and have filed suit accusing Burroughs of defamation, infliction of emotional distress, etc. The family has included St. Martin's Press, the publisher of the book, in the lawsuit but not Plan B (Brad Pitt's company) which is producing the movie adaptation due in 2006.

The timing of the lawsuit is curious. The book was published in 2002 and became a best-seller quickly. Why wait till now? Will Plan B and Sony Pictures (the distributor) be sued as well?

I interviewed Augusten Burroughs last year for an article which I talk about here. I highly recommend Running with Scissors and his second memoir on getting sober Dry.

Technorati tags:


How dorky is it that I just used the screen of my iBook as a flashlight to creep downstairs for a sandwich?

Mm, I suspected as much.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Grand mal or la petite morte?

An incident from my time at the hospital:

EMS gets a call that an elderly man has had a seizure and is now unconscious. When they get to the scene the man's wife is freaking out. With a little effort, but the paramedic rouses the old guy. He's fine. Turns out he and his wife were having sex for the first time in 15 years - thanks to Viagra or Cialis I assume - then he sat up too quickly and briefly passed out. Even after a decade and a half, it still seems like his wife should be able to tell the difference between a seizure and an orgasm.

Two weeks left to gather material

In an interesting development since this post, I've been denied the shift change I requested. I was told that they had no more slots for PRNs (as needed employees) and that I'd have to stay full-time or commit to a part-time schedule which would probably interfere with my schoolwork. So, I put in my two weeks notice today.

Apparently, management would rather lose me completely than have me drop down to working a shift or two a week. This is especially curious given that they're chronically under-staffed - especially on weekends, which is exactly when I'd be picking up shifts - and some of the current PRN staff barely work now. Their boneheadedness in essentially demanding to have me on their terms or not at all was a shock at first. Upon further reflection, this type of nose-cutting, face-spiteing is in line with past conduct.

Maybe they were playing hardball thinking I'd crack, the naive imbeciles. I have a long history of standing up for myself at work and loudly pointing out the flaws of management. School, of course, takes precedence and this job was originally to be a summer job only, so it's no great loss. I feel worse for my co-workers who will have to work that much harder in my absence.

My fellow employees have made me feel practically sunny about all this. Being sorely missed and roundly praised will do that. It's also gratifying to have everyone hop on the "friggin' morons!" bandwagon. I'm thinking of collecting all the employee criticism, demanding an exit interview with the manager that decided to lose me, and taking her down a peg or two.

In my resignation letter, I left the managers a way out. After several paragraphs laying out my arguments, I concluded with,

"I trust that you can see the wisdom of keeping me on a PRN basis and will happily rescind my resignation should you reach that conclusion."

Gee but I love writing stuff like that. Unfortunately, management seems to have a Dubya-like inability to admit mistakes and so I expect the reply will be something along the lines of, "So long and don't let the door hit ya on the way out."

Oh well, life moves on.