Mold by John Biguenet

Southern Rep Theater, in conjunction with the CAC presents now through April 14 the latest play by John Biguenet in his Rising Water trilogy, Mold. His previous two installments, Rising Waters and Shotgun received critical acclaim, and this third installment also rises to the occasion. Be informed, there are spoilers to follow.

I knew this would be a difficult play to watch, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be until I walked into the theater, saw the stage and then felt the wounds of Katrina reopening inside. The set evoked a visceral reaction: the screen door wide open, the furniture looked as if it had been agitated in a washing machine, the buckled floor and warped ceiling fan blades drooping from gravity’s pull and the splattered walls of Katrina patina that looks like a speckled yard egg. When Emile Guidry (played by Trey Burvant) and his wife Marie (played by Kerry Cahill) pushed open the swollen front door, the audience could then see the orange Katrina X-code: 9/21 – CA7 – 0 – 2 dead.

In the first act, Emile and Marie are in his parents home 1 year after the storm waiting to meet the insurance adjuster. It took them a long time to return and the shock of the condition inside as they push the front door open is overwhelming. The third character, Mrs. Delachaise (played by Carol Sutton) a volunteer with the City of New Orleans shows up first, and is tasked with condemning properties and marking homes for demolition, the Guidry home included. Emile is beside himself dealing with the grief of destruction as he meets the coldness of bureaucracy embodied by Mrs. Delachaise, but as he sulks off, Marie and Mrs. Delachaise bond on the porch with Mrs. Delachaise reliving her experiences going through Hurricane Betsy and then astutely diagnosing Marie expecting a child. It was one of those bonding experiences we all know during a storm: with the power out and no electronic gadgets to distract us, we turn to the old ways of conversation and story telling and bonding with strangers while sharing the experience going through the disaster.

The second act opens with the fourth character Mr. Bernard the adjuster (played by Randy Maggiore). He introduces Emile to the 5th kingdom of mold, and the battle that everyone endures fighting for insurance payouts to become whole again. The arguing sets off Mr. Bernard, who angrily relives rescuing people with his boat in the aftermath of the flood, pointing out that Emile was far away, sipping coffee in Houston. Turns out after all the discussion, Emile’s parents don’t have flood insurance, and the grand total of the settlement comes to a measly $1200. It is after Mr. Bernard leaves that the struggle ensues between Emile wanting to remain in New Orleans, the proud mantra that “I’m a New Orleanian and anything is possible” clashing with Marie’s realistic view that there is no money to rebuild, nowhere to live if they did decide to do it themselves and no point in living amongst the ghosts of what New Orleans was and will never be again. Then she reveals to her husband that she is pregnant…

In the brief Q&A that followed the play, Biguenet informed the audience how he had stitched together all the vignettes from countless Katrina stories into the script of Mold. He indicated that Mold was written for all the New Orleanians caught up in the diaspora who remain in exile, as much as for those mold rooted, tenacious New Orleanians that were able to return and rebuild. One audience member wanted Biguenet to add more stories to his trilogy, but others said it was complete. I believe he has covered the experience of enduring Katrina. Mold ends with the couple holding onto each other, the future unknown, the collective experience of discovering the extent of destruction in the immediate aftermath having passed and coming to terms with the loss of loved ones and possessions. The rest of the story has yet to be written with the next step down the path different for everyone as life moves on, and that is where the trilogy ends, for now.

Thanks to Southern Rep for extending the invitation to attend. Experience Mold for yourself, its an entertaining and thought provoking journey to traverse. I hope that this trilogy makes it to the New York stage: in the aftermath of Sandy there will be a whole new audience that can appreciate the relevance and profound message Biguenet’s stories portray.

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Southeast Louisiana Winters

I’m from Massachusetts, so I’m familiar with the long, wet, cold winters. The driving during this time of year used to be horrific. We lived on a hill and not a winter would pass where we were out on the street during a snowstorm trying to help push cars up the hill in the stormy and icy conditions.

Driving in icy conditions looks like this:

Southeast Louisiana winters are gentle, but they are not without their hazards. I spent 30 years driving to and from work in New Orleans East in near zero visibility due to the fog. This time of year is the worst for the fog.

Since I retired in October I haven’t even ventured out of bed before 7. But Saturday I got up early and noticed how thick the fog was around our house. So I grabbed the camera and went outside to play.

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My dog thought he was hiding.

Taken in Slidell, La on January 26, 2013

Taken in Slidell, La on January 26, 2013

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an alternative newsprint daily

As mentioned in an earlier post, I am giving up my subscription to the Times Picayune. I simply cannot justify paying Newhouse’s exorbitant subscription price for part-time news. And, to add insult to injury, Newhouse revealed recently that they are going to focus on expanding to Baton Rouge, diluting its already stretched resources to provide weak tea online news coverage to two metropolitan areas as opposed to maintaining a strong, daily presence in its city of origin.

So, for those of you desiring a daily newsprint fix, here is a link to the Baton Rouge Advocate New Orleans edition subscription. If you prefer to call The Advocate’s customer service directly, their number is 504-529-0522

I’ll post in a month or so how this paper compares to the old TP. I have high hopes, and I pray the Advocate meets that expectation. I am sure their political reporting will be far superior – I hope they get a lock on the pulse of New Orleans and the surrounding parishes’ “unique” perspective on political folly. We’ll see…

where are all the men?

Isaac just blew through southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi with a vengeance. He was cunning and wily, and decided to sit and stay for awhile, spinning over us for 60+ hours, dumping 20 or so inches of rain, swelling lakes and rivers and causing massive destruction to the electrical grid, trees, and unfortunately massive flooding to homes lying outside the federal levee protection area.

But despite the “mancane” who unleashed his fury, there has been, at least in my sphere, a serious lack of men, the human kind, to help ease the burden of dealing with the aftermath. Men working for utility companies are hindered from working because of the overarching concern for safety issues by their company’s administration. Men are driving around, alone, sightseeing and snapping pictures of the destruction with their “smartphones” instead of parking and helping an elderly man drag a tree limb out to the street. Men are conspicuously absent when the generator needs refueling in pitch black darkness with the winds howling about at 50 mph. Men are nowhere near when an elderly woman is doing her best to rake the yard of storm debris, and who instead pulls over to help her but a female contractor. Where are the men who place a nonchalant phone call to check on someone instead of getting off their butt, driving over and checking on others without having someone beg them to do so. Practically every female I know, and there are many, have no male presence putting aside his personal needs to be with them while the winds howl, and after when the gutters need to be pulled off the house, or the tree limbs need to be chainsawed off the roof.

There are many instances of bravery however. Here is an example of a group of Plaquemines Parish men, Jesse Shaffer Sr. and Jr., Lanny Lafrance, Drew Lafrance, Mitch Meyers, Roy Ially and Jimmy Kamm, all heroes, who cast aside their personal safety and braved the height of the storm to rescue 120 people flooded out with 10-12 feet of water in their homes down in Braithwaite. There are countless heroes from down in Lafitte, Barataria & Crown Point who battled the floods to save their homes and their unique way of life. Despite this, I still have noticed a void of males, a void that when the chips are down, some women are doing all the dirty work and the men skirting the fringes of these women’s lives are nowhere to be found.

In part I blame feminism. Sure feminism liberated women a generation ago, but there has been a backlash – men witnessed women becoming more independent and figure, what’s the use? I’ve never been a die-hard feminist – I recognize my physical limitations, am comfortable in the traditional female roles of cooking and cleaning, however I am very well educated and prefer a partnership in which a male partner is an equal and will stand alongside me instead of commanding me to bid his demands and looking for constant competition. Perhaps men still are stuck in the “I-need-to-save-the-damsel-in-distress” mode. It certainly seems like all or nothing to many of them.

I am exhausted from Isaac, and unfortunately this post is a reflection over the grueling events of the past 10 days. I mean no disrespect to the men out there who pulled their weight, pitched in, stood beside their women and families during the storm, and then worked alongside their women in the aftermath, you know who you are. But I suspect those who post in argument to what I write may ultimately be looking in the mirror and decide they really don’t like what they see and then lash out at this post to deflect their guilt. Bring it on…

Another Year, Another Hurricane

Part of living in Southeast Louisiana is accepting that you will, on a fairly regular basis, have to make the choice of whether to evacuate for an impending hurricane or ride it out at home. Every storm is unique with its own very unique qualities and it’s really a game of semi-education and gut calculating that goes into the deciding. Sometimes the evacuation is worse than the storm as it was for me for Hurricane Gustav. Sometimes the evacuation is a piece of cake but the storm is devastating as it was for me for Hurricane Katrina. It’s really a roll of the dice, kismet, karma or just plain bad or good luck.  There’s no making sense of it so don’t even try.

We are still in the midst of the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, a storm that has defied all of the expert’s accumulated knowledge about how a hurricane should act. The word used over and over about it was/is “confusing”. Personally, I’ve made it through the storm with little material damage – just a whole lot of debris to clean up and it’s looking like several days without power. I’ll take it. I’ve seen much, much worse. Despite the group angst of this hurricane falling on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it appears New Orleans has made it through just fine from what I’m reading on Twitter and FaceBook and hearing on my little battery operated radio. (I’m able to write this thanks to hooking up briefly to our generator.)

Other parishes around New Orleans have not been so lucky. Two of our bloggers, Amy and Judy B, live in Slidell where there has been massive flooding and I’m very worried for them. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Balloons!!!

We made the trek to Foley, Alabama for the second year in a row to attend the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival. Now in it’s 8th year, the festival attracts balloon teams from Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana and Alabama.

While the real action takes place at 6 A.M. both days of the Festival and at sunset, the grounds offer vendors from photography, jewelers, artists, clothing and home made soap the Disc Connected K9’s and carny food.

To pass the time during the day when there wasn’t much going on we paid a visit to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo (the little zoo that could). It was fantastic and will be the subject of another post.

The following pictures were taken on the second day of the festival. This year there were 45 balloons competing. Right around sunset, the crews inflate their balloons and take off. Well, only half took off; the second half inflated their balloons and participated in the “glow and twinkle” part of the festival. Glowing is where the pilots light up the balloons using the same propane that helps them ascend into the sky. It is absolutely awesome to watch. Twinkling is short glows.


There is nothing more awe-inspiring than watching the balloons inflate.


Notice the size of these balloons!


First balloon to fly is “Hope Floats” from Alabama


One balloon rises above the others


The Constitution balloon, “Freedom Flyer” from Florida.


The “Smiley” from Ohio balloon was a big hit.


I kicked myself for not bringing my wide-angle lens!

The black balloon is “Wind Spirit” from Alabama.


Here’s “Wisdom Racer” from Baton Rouge rising into the sky


There’s “Cheaper than a Wife” from Missouri.


Flying over the tree line…..


Left to right “Touchstone Energy” from Texas, “Smiley” from Ohio, “Let’s Get High” from Alabama and “Big Red” from North Carolina.


Here’s “Dean’s Dream” from Mississippi


I liked the way the setting sun was reflected on these balloons.


One of our favorites: “Synchronicity” from Nevada.


Floating away…..


“Smokey the Bear” from New Mexico.


The “Budweiser” balloon’s from Mississippi.


After the first half of the balloons took off, the “Glow & Twinkle” started.


It’s fun to watch and try to get the pictures as they glow.


“Sunrise Fellowship” from Arkansas is dwarfed by “Oggy the Friendly Dragon” from Indiana.


Here’s another shot of the glow.

It was a great weekend and we learned to eat before we went to the festival because carny food is not so good. So if you’re ever looking for something unique to do for Fathers’ Day weekend, keep this festival in mind. It’s worth the trip. Plus Foley and the Orange Beach area have quite a few attractions.

In loving memory of Charlie: LAST CALL…

Charlie Smith, Jazz Fest Day 2 2009. Photo by Michelle B. Kimball © Preservation Resource Center, Advocacy Dept.

We’d met on an intermittently drizzly day in the heart of  the Vieux Carré in January 1992, when I’d stopped to check out the poetry he was peddling at Jackson Square. He watched me reading, not saying a word, then turned and rummaged through a couple of banker’s boxes and pulled a short story he’d written titled “The Girl in the Black Trenchcoat” from a manila file folder which he handed to me with flourish as a greeting gift. The story obviously wasn’t about me (as we’d not yet met), but it resonated immediately. I still have those three type-written pages in a box of keepsakes, safely tucked away.

We were kindred — he’d recognized it from the get-go, and I’m still grateful that I was smart enough to roll with it (despite my New-to-New-Orleans wariness) until I eventually realized that he was absolutely right. I’ve never been good about keeping in touch with people as time passes and the scenery changes, but I somehow managed to keep in contact with Charlie over the years in between then and now, and he welcomed me back when I returned to New Orleans.

If love were enough to keep anybody on this side of the daisies, Charlie would have been a formidable, wry, growling, mischievous, and lively raconteur forever — a one-man court jester/Greek chorus hybrid who’d never pull a punch when he had something on his mind that needed to be said out loud. This man was family to me; he’s the reason why I took up deviling local politicians and community figures as my most favorite sport, and his ability to speak the oft-overlooked yet simple truth of a situation will continue to inspire me. I was delighted when he decided to throw his hat back into the lobbying ring and by the artful descriptions he’d craft for his most recent clientele; as the only lobbyist inducted to date in the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame, he was truly legendary, unforgettable, and unique.

I’m happy that the last time we kept lengthy company (blissfully grazing at a pig roast party at Pravda on Lower Decatur), he got to see me use my two minutes of  unanticipated and impromptu face time with Louisiana State Senator Edwin R. Murray to my best advantage… Charlie just smiled and looked proudly amused as I excused myself from the conversation we’d been enjoying to address Sen. Murray directly after he’d taken the seat at our table across from me. Sen. Murray was visibly stunned (as if he didn’t know what had just hit him), and one could also see my date’s brain cells colliding as he watched me snap from relaxed & casual to being a political creature with a three-bullet-point agenda in the blink of an eye, securing a follow-up meeting on the spot. The guy I’d been seeing back then is history for all the right reasons (I remember noticing Charlie watching him quietly and I could see that he’d thought that the guy couldn’t keep up with me), but Sen. Murray hasn’t forgotten my name since, most likely because I’d been in Charlie’s company that evening.

I only knew Charlie after he’d paid his dues and cleaned up his act, and I loved him as I found him — I can only imagine who he’d been in the years prior from the stories he’d occasionally share. I’m pretty sure that I’d have liked him, had I known him “back when,” but I also suspect that I respected and admired him more for his having learned how to live beyond all of that. I think what I loved the most about him was that his smile always reached his eyes and I believe that this was true because of everything he’d experienced, not in spite of.

Here’s who Charlie was, in his own words from the introduction to his first poetry collection, before he chose a different way to go about living his life:

I was sitting, actually I was lying — passed out — drunk and stupid, in this place called the “Copper Bar” next to the Las Vegas Hilton at about three in the morning when this hooker woke me up and handed me my wallet. “You’re sure lucky I’m an honest hooker,” she said. “Don’t bother to count it, you’ve got $1,400 in there; I didn’t touch a thing.”

I thanked her and she said, “Look, it’s obvious to me that you don’t know shit from beans about Vegas or your wouldn’t have been so dumb as to fall out in this place. I’m off duty so what say I show you the ropes around town and you can throw me a chip every now and then… I mean, I just saved your ass $1,400 and all.”

She was right on all counts so we had a drink, and she showed me around Vegas. During the course of the night, or morning (there’s not much difference in a city that doesn’t recognize time), she told me her story.

She said she was a housewife in one of the Carolinas and, having read one too many Vivas or Cosmopolitans, had decided that she wasn’t getting her share of Life’s multi-orgasmic climaxes so she got together all the green stamps she could from her checking and savings accounts, left her hubby a note (just said “Bye.”), checked on a Greyhound Bus and headed to Las Vegas.

On arriving, she discovered that she really loved gambling and had no marketable job skills. It didn’t take her long to run out of money, so she turned to hooking for a living. Life can be hard on you anywhere, but in Vegas you’re operating at a higher rate of speed than anywhere else, and she was due to leave town soon. But, she told me, “At least I’ll have enough material for my book.”

I told her I also wrote, not books but poetry, so she told me what her title was going to be (with some people, titles come first). She said, “Since it’s going to be based on my life, I’m going to call it I GOT OFF THE BUS TWO YEARS AGO, AND I’M STILL WAITING FOR LAST CALL.”

To me, that’s the best title for hard living I’ve ever heard. The people I know, the street people, politicians, entertainers, bartenders, etc., are all waiting for the last call. I haven’t seen her book out so maybe she won’t mind me using her idea. She probably won’t see this book, either, so I guess we’re even.

This is dedicated to all the people who think what I write. The poems were almost all written in some confused state of mind, and a drunk that thinks in iambic pentameter can feel awfully silly the next morning when he looks at what’s been scrawled on the napkins, but that goes with the territory. I thought some of the poems would make great songs and had a flirtation with that idea, but nothing ever came of it. Maybe something will develop sometime or another.

Or maybe it won’t, but as Mr. Vonnegut might say, “So it goes.”

(From Still Waiting For Last Call… © 1987 by Charlie Smith)

Charlie’s Jazz Fest Cape, Jazz Fest Day 2 2009. Photo by Michelle B. Kimball © Preservation Resource Center, Advocacy Dept.

Thanks to the magic of the ether and pixels, some of Charlie’s songs can be enjoyed here: Charlie Smith’s Songs.

Via a post from Charlie’s daughter on Facebook: “The service will be held at Jacob Schoen & Son funeral home [3827 Canal Street, New Orleans] on Tuesday, March 6, 2012, with visitation beginning at 5:00 PM until 8:00 PM, and then a service held in the chapel at 8:00 PM. Black is always the first choice at funerals, but we think LSU apparel would probably best honor Daddy, so please feel free to break out your purple and gold. This will be an obviously sad occasion, but it should also be a time to celebrate his life. We are not quite sure about the charity to donate to in lieu of flowers, but will post that when we know.” (Me? I’ll be wearing a Jazz Fest shirt, celebrating my memories of Charlie when he’d wear a flamboyant purple cape inscribed in gold lettering with “Defender of Arts / Pets / Historic Preservation / Coastal Restoration / King of Jazz Fest.”)

In closing, I offer this from the poignant-yet-funny write-up by political editor Clancy DuBos of The Gambit titled “Charlie’s Way”: “I once wrote that if Charlie didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him. Suffice it to say that Louisiana politics is cleaning up its act, which makes Charlie’s exit from the stage timely — but the story will be a lot less fun to watch without him.”

His obituary can be viewed here: Charles Leslie Smith — September 9, 1942 – March 1, 2012.