What I learned as an extra on Treme’

22 February 2010

1) Being an extra is extra-boring.

2) Parking in a lot with a security guard is no guarantee that your car won’t get broken into.

I have contempt for court

23 October 2009

I’m on jury duty this month, for the first time (lucky, I know).  Every time I try to complain about the unbelievable inefficiency of it all, all I hear is, “What do you expect?  It’s jury duty.  It’s supposed to be that way.”

But it doesn’t have to be.  As I’ve always said, if stuff happening as it should is your top priority, then New Orleans isn’t the place for you.  But this is absurd because of the incredible disrespect it shows for people’s time.

In case you’ve never had jury duty or it’s been awhile, here’s how it works:  You show up at the appointed time of 8:30.  Around 10:30 or 11, they announce that judge X is ready for a pool, and they call 25-50 names to go up.  If Judge X really isn’t ready (which I’ve seen happen), or if Judge X realizes that this isn’t a jury case (which I’ve seen happen), then you come back down and resume waiting.  If Judge X is ready, then you go in and actually do something–answer questions from incompetent and ignorant ADAs or public defenders (lord help me if I ever need one of them) who are basically just kissing your ass so you’ll like them and vote their way.  If they’d read the questionnaire you so carefully filled out, then they wouldn’t really need to ask you anything, but they haven’t.  If you’re picked for the jury, then you’re stuck for the day and perhaps the night.  If you’re not, you go back down and wait some more until they decide to let you go home.  When I initially came in, they told me I’d know by noonish if I would be on a jury, but that was a lie.  So now I’m having to ask for special permission to get out in time to teach my 1:15 class.  Most people don’t go home til 3:30 or 4.

Here’s my main beef:  Why are the potential jurors–the only people in this process who aren’t paid–forced to work around everyone else’s schedule?  Can’t they ask what would be a good time for ME to come in?  And why the hell do they tell us to come in at 8:30 when the know damn well they won’t be ready for at least 2 hours after that?  If the judges have to get “ready” for the jurors, then they should have done that last night, not when 150 kind souls are down there waiting.  The disrespect is unfathomable.

I’ll say this–the people you meet are generally lovely, as one would expect from New Orleanians.  Although everyone is frustrated with the operation, they don’t take it out on each other or the staff who read the names and check us in/out.  I’ve had some nice conversations with a great cr0ss-section of people, which makes me that much more angry with the judges who abuse them.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I make a salary, and even if I have to cancel class for a trial, I won’t be fired over this.  But my neighbor Donald is there with me, and he makes his living doing odd jobs in our neighborhood.  What the hell is he supposed to do?  This is stealing from him, all because they can’t just have him come in when they’ll need him.  But he’s still there, in good spirits, holding court (so to speak).  He’s too good for them, and so are most of the other people I’ve encountered.

Why not put us on call, and say that we have to report within, say, an hour of their calling us?  Why not give us the option of coming in at night?  Why not be prepared for us when they tell us to show up, so they can run us through a series of interviews back to back?  Why not do what most places do and have us call an automated number to find out if we need to report?  Anything would be a better system.  Hell, I’d rather have just taken one whole week off to do it than this drawn-out, williteverend shit.

This much I know:  I finally know how to vote for judges.  I’ve always felt weird voting for judges because I don’t know who’d be good and who wouldn’t.  Now I do.  I’m voting against every single one of these sitting judges, and I’m voting for any candidate who can realistically promise to overhaul the jury system and show a little more respect for the good people of the city.

The judges are the only ones there with any power, so this system is their responsibility.  And they all suck.

On Canada, Camping, and Camping in Canada

16 August 2009

DSC_0042E and I just got back from a wonderful trip up North.  She attended APA in Toronto while I milled around the city and attempted to work.  Then we both spent almost a week in Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park.  Got in some excellent hiking, camping, and kayaking.  Pix will be on my Flickr page soon.

It was an interesting time to be in Canada, as the whole country seems to get a bit of a kick out of our gnashing over health care reform.  Lots of people asked about the city, and they were almost uniformly more informed about our status than people in other parts of the US.  And because it was only the 2nd time I’d been there, I now feel equipped to judge the entire country on my limited experience.  So herewith, some overgeneralizations about Canadians:

DSC_0171First, meet Tom.  Tom runs Doc’s Gas Bar, which I hoped meant Gas & Bar, but didn’t.  It’s the typical rural supply store where in the States you’d find rebel flag hats and lots of cellophane-wrapped “nougat” products for sale.  We came there to buy firewood and ice, and a couple of citronella candles.  On our first stop, Tom was very friendly and asked us where we were from and eventually asked us how we felt about “this guy behind me,” which was the first time I noticed that he had a big Obama poster behind the counter.  I told him that I was pretty thrilled and that it sure as hell was a step up from his predecessor, but then it dawned on me how weird it was that in this otherwise redneck-looking outpost, the man wouldn’t just be a closet Obama sympathizer, but would actually advertise it.  Not even his president (or maybe that’s why it’s safer).  Anyway, here’s E and me with Tom.  As he put it, “White men screwed it all up, and it’ll take a black man to fix it.”

Here are some other thoughts on the trip:

  • In American parks, if you’re willing to hike about 1/4 mile on a trail, you don’t see anyone else; no so in Canada.  People really get out there.
  • Sea kayaking is a lot of fun as long as you’re not in a hurry.
  • I was amazed at how little wildlife we saw.  The parks were pristine, but at night you wouldn’t hear as much as a cricket or frog, and our fauna tally amounted basically to some frogs, lots of squirrels, a couple rabbits, 2 water snakes, and a couple chipmunks.  Kinda disappointing.
  • It’s pretty hard to get decent bourbon in Canada.
  • Stone Orchid Indonesian restaurant in Tobermory is phenomenal and set us up with a full 7-course vegetarian feast on our anniversary (14 yrs, btw).
  • If at all possible, avoid driving on Toronto highways or downtown.
  • If someone offers you an Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale, do not accept.  It’s no IPA at all; virtually no hops.
  • On the other hand, the Mill Street Brewery makes a number of very fine beers.
  • I’m really glad we’ve given up backpacking in favor of base-camp-day-hiking.
  • Even though Canadians seem to use their parks more, they’re fairly loud (and yes, I know it was the Canadians by the accent, and yes, I know I’m generalizing, but I cautioned about that).  I mean jeez, people are sleeping in a tent 20 feet from you and you’re going to stay up talking at full volume?  And all parks should ban recorded music at all times.
  • The Harry Potter book recordings make for excellent road-trip listening.
  • My wife is amazingly tolerant.

DSC_0137Great trip, and now work resumes.  Counting my blessings to have the opportunity to travel and relax.  I sure sleep better in that tent.

HammHawk’s Friday Raves

3 July 2009

Menage a Trois red.  Seems like every time I drink this, I like it more than anything else.  Don’t be a blend snob.

FuckYouPenguin.  New URL, same phenomenal writing.

Get Fuzzy.  E likes it even more than I do (as in, she’s a freak for it), but is there any doubt this is the best strip going?

Rambla.  Best tapas I’ve had in a loooong time.

Backgammon.  E & I’ve been playing a lot lately, and it’s just a wonderful game.  Played all my life, and it never gets old.

Harvey Milk.  Now we’ve seen Milk and the documentary it’s based on.  That guy was awesome.

Badlands & Black Hills

25 June 2009

Just got back from a much needed vacation to South Dakota, one of the few states I hadn’t seen before.  After grading AP psyc exams for 12 days, we were ready.  We tacked the camping onto the free flight to KC, so we could just rent a car and save a ton of money.  Well, not so much.  Because of the idiotic fees Continental charges now, the extra bags (backpacks) and my overweight bag meant we paid $130 each way in baggage fees.  Plus, we rented the car for $300 for the week, which seemed reasonable, but KC has the 2nd highest airport fees in the country, so the $300 car cost $430.  That’s almost 50% in taxes & fees.  Bullshit.

Good thing the trip was so great.  We drove up from KC and camped in the middle of South Dakota the first night before we made it to the Badlands.  They were amazing.  Incredible views, tons of wildlife (more on that in a minute), and just a great vibe.  After that we went to the Black Hills.  I’d never seen Mt. Rushmore, and I have ambivalence about it, but it was very cool.  And I’d heard of the Crazy Horse memorial, but I didn’t know much about it.  It’s great too, but it’s not nearly done, and it won’t be in our lifetimes.  There’s a Werner Herzog waiting to happen if he hears about Korczak Ziolkowski.  Another obsessive crazy genius.  I like what he tried to do, but c’mon….  More great hiking and camping there, and then we came back through part of Nebraska and visited Carhenge.  Awesome.

Below is me at Stonehenge, 1990, and at Carhenge, 2009.  Anything changed?


Other highlights of the trip:

  • E almost got bit by a rattlesnake.  Seriously.  I saw it (first rattler I’d ever seen in the wild) and it got within an inch or 2 of her ankle.
  • E got attacked by ticks.
  • E went head to head with a bison.  Actually, we got the hell out of its way, but that meant treading back into rattlesnake area.
  • E braved Wind Cave, which wasn’t her cup of tea.

So, it was a trying trip for her, but we both had a blast.


  • The aforementioned rattlesnake
  • Lots of bison
  • Lots of pronghorn antelope
  • Lots of deer
  • Lots of prairie dogs
  • One marmot
  • Two mountain goats
  • Some other snakes
  • Lots of beautiful birds
  • Toads
  • Hares

For me, the animals are always the highlights, but this time another thrill was finding a fossilized jawbone, probably from an oreodont, whatever the hell that is.

Advice for traveling there:  Skip the roadside “attractions.”  S. Dakota is lousy with them, and they’re generally cheesy and lame.  Yeah, even Wall Drug and the Corn Palace.  Stick to the national parks and forests, and you’ll have a real time.

Carhenge may seem cheesy to some people, but not me.  It’s very cool.

Anyway, here are the pix.

Sign me up!

1 April 2009


Ducks & Crabs

2 May 2008

This story made me feel good, although I wouldn’t say that they’re giving the ducks quite a wide enough berth.  But it was interesting to read that the site director said “It’s not all about the almighty dollar.  We respect life; it’s very important to us,” and then read this caption to a story about food sales being down: “Angie Lanier fixes a soft-shell crab po-boy at the Galley Seafood booth, which wasted hundreds of the crabs after last weekend’s rain.”

I realize I’m in the minority, but I hate when people refer to animals as commodities.  Maybe I’m just sensitive since E started “experimenting” with eating shellfish.

Striking writers, NOFF

4 December 2007

Considering how much TV I like to watch, I’m surprised that I don’t really give a damn about the strike.  Yeah, I guess I’m on the side of the writers, but it’s not exactly the Montgomery bus boycott.  I think they deserve a cut from the webcasts, but I haven’t lost a lot of sleep for them.

Mainly, I’m surprised that I don’t miss the shows, and maybe that’s why I’m less sympathetic.  They’re doing a less essential job than I would’ve thought.  Even the shows that I get on the DVR (Daily Show, Colbert, Office) are pretty much not leaving a void in my life.  I guess I should take this as a lesson about my indulgences, but I expect I’ll be back to catching them when they’re back on.  For now, I’ll see a few more movies.

Speaking of movies, I thought I’d posted this a while back, but I seem to have lost my post.  It was belated then, and now it’s really belated.  Anyway, especially now that Diving Bell is getting wider release, I salvaged and thought I’d post from 24 October 2007:

Last year for my b-day, E got me a membership in the New Orleans Film Society (or Film Fest, depending).  It’s been great, as we’ve gone to a couple at the CAC (Helvetica & Crazy Love–both awesome docs), and now I finally did the Film Fest last weekend with my friend Joe who lives in Austin now (but he’s still a great guy).

Joe is my favorite movie companion because he loves ‘em, but he doesn’t talk.  I can’t tolerate people thinking they’re cute trying to crack up the surrounding viewers or people who act like they’re home watching DVDs.  Why do so many adults not know how to whisper?

Anyway, we both have the stamina to sit for hours on end (one of my few talents), so we went to 5 on Sat and 2 on Sun before he had to leave.  Here’s what we saw, in my order of preference:

  1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly–What a fascinating movie.  Based on the true story of the editor of French Elle, who had a massive stroke and could only move one eye.  Didn’t keep him from writing a book.  As if I didn’t feel badly enough about my own progress.  Gorgeous, claustrophobic, thought-provoking, funny, everything.
  2. Left Behind:  The Story of New Orleans Public Schools–Really well done.  Starts a little before Katrina and follows the hijinks of our screwy school system and a bunch of people who don’t give a shit about the kids.  The personal stories of some local students make the story especially poignant and moving.  In the end, not quite as depressing as you might think.  Let’s hope Vallas can get the job done.
  3. Killer of Sheep–Stunningly good b&w release from the ’70s about life in Watts.  Amazingly realistic performances.  Depressing at times, inspiring and joyful in others.  Gotta see it.
  4. Dans Paris–Your basic French story of life in a family in Paris.  Troubled relationships, joie de vivre, and depression.
  5. Grace is Gone–Somewhat disappointing John Cusack movie about a man whose wife dies in Iraq, and he can’t bear to tell their two daughters, so he takes them on vacation.  Sorta precious and self-conscious.
  6. Suffering Man’s Charity–Quite disappointing Alan Cumming movie about a musician who’s obsessed with a hustler.  Devolves into a slapstick thing.  I disliked it for the same reason I disliked Death at a Funeral.  Silliness posing as dark humor.  Still, Cumming was his charming self in attendance.  Said he thought NOLA was a great city to show a morbid movie and that Scotland has similar sensibilities.  Told a great story to illustrate:  U2 was in Scotland to give a concert, and Bono told everyone to be quiet.  At 1-sec intervals, he clapped in rhythm.  Clap.  Clap.  Clap.  Then he said that everytime he clapped, a child in Africa died of AIDS.  Lad in the front row shouts, “Why don’t you quit fucking clapping then!”  Choice.
  7. Flakes–I really really wanted to like this.  But alas.  I remember flipping out when we walked by Cafe Brazil and saw that it’d been turned into a cereal bar.  Felt silly when told that it was for a movie, but even pre-K we take our institutions seriously.  Fun to see Brazil, Marigny Bookshop, R Bar, Checkpoint Charlie….  Problem was the plot, with “manufactured conflict” as Joe called it (maybe that’s a common term, but I didn’t know it and it’s perfect).  Evil businessman wants to franchise Christopher Lloyd’s one-of-a-kind joint, and the good guys strike back.  Eh.

I was really disappointed to miss the Allen Toussaint Touch, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Faubourg Treme, the Untold Story of Black New Orleans, King of Kong, Tootie’s Last Suit, etc.

I’ll try to make time to see more next year, but they do a hell of a job.  Attendance at most of the shows was really good, and there were several that I couldn’t get to because they sold out.  I’ve noted to friends that everywhere else I’ve lived I’ve been disappointed when something’s sold out.  Here, I’m thrilled because it’s a sign of thriving.  Weird.

Jersey Dispatch

9 April 2007

Must be nice.

Also, quick observation…  I’ve never lived in the Northeast, but I had a prof in grad school who was from Connecticut.  He would always lecture in question format:  “So the frontal lobe deals with planning, right?”

In NJ, I’ve seen a similar communication pattern.  A waiter says, “Enjoy your meal, alright?  If you need anything else, you let me know, ok?”

Is this a NE thing, or my imagination?

Regardless, thanks to A&G for wonderful hosting; had a very nice time.  Alright?

I’m From Jersey, Are You From Jersey?

6 April 2007

Right now I’m in the Mudd Manuscript library at Princeton.  My brother in law works here, and we’re visiting him and his wife for the weekend.  This is a very cool library; we got the tour last time and saw the archives of the ACLU, George McGovern, and a bunch of other good things.

They also have James Baker’s stuff.

I’m writing from the library because the candy-assed coffee shop we went to doesn’t have wireless.  What self-respecting coffee shop doesn’t have wireless these days?  Anyway, it’s a nice place to be, and I had to get out of the house because my allergies were going bananas.  They have a couple of very cool cats, but they do a number on my nose.

Thought I’d share the transcript from a phone call E got from her mom, whom we sometimes entrust with the pets.  Although she’s not always johnny-on-the-spot (almost killed Denali one time in a way that I’ll only disclose in person; sometimes puts the lid on the litterbox backwards so that the entrance is flush against the wall; etc), but like my friend who lets his mom babysit his kids even though she always tries to get them to become fundamentalist Christians, the convenience is usually too much to pass up.

It’s the benefit of living across the damn street from one’s mother in law.

Anyway, here’s the call:

This is mom, um, I’m looking for um Denali’s cat food, I mean WhoopyCat’s cat-, McGuire’s cat food.  Wondered if she had any more I need to give her if she doesn’t have any.  Anyway, give me a call when you can.  I love you.

For context, Denali’s a dog, WhoopyCat’s dead, and McGuire’s a male cat.  Alas.  To quote my mom-in-law, precise memories aren’t exactly “up my forte.”

BTW, it’s nice sometimes to get away, but it was snowing when we landed in Newark.  Jeez.