Archive for Big Easy

Isaac, Katrina’s Obnoxious Little Brother

Bringing back some pretty bad, soggy memories...

Another Katrina anniversary. Another storm. This one, thank heaven, a dwarf in destructive power compared with its infamous predecessor.

Even as a relatively weak Category One hurricane, however, Isaac is proving to be troublesome. Some of the most destructive storms to hit the Gulf Coast have been low-velocity but slow-moving storms, such as this one, which cling to an area for days, dumping tens of inches of rain. Already, Isaac has disrupted power to nearly half a million residents in the Greater New Orleans area. The improved Corps of Engineers flood protection system seems to be working well thus far, with only one minor glitch concerning pumping facility controls at the Seventeenth Street Canal, near the border between Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, which has been corrected. Down south, in Plaquemines Parish, near where the storm made landfall, a stretch of parish-built levees have been overtopped, not breached, and the entry of water on the east bank of the Mississippi has flooded an undetermined number of homes with up to nine feet of flooding.

Until three years ago, my family and I lived in a house on the West Bank of the Mississippi, in a suburban portion of New Orleans called Algiers. That area of the city lucked out during Katrina, not being in the East Bank flood zone. However, had Katrina made landfall fifteen or twenty miles west of where it landed, the West Bank’s levee system, then (and most likely still) greatly inferior to the East Bank’s, would likely have crumbled before the force of the storm surge, and my neighborhood would have been underwater. A flood map from The Times Picayune showed the severity of potential flooding on the West Bank, neighborhood by neighborhood. My block could have received up to nine feet of water. My house stood about four feet above the level of the street, on a slightly raised lot, so we could have returned home from South Florida, where we had taken shelter, to find five feet of water in our house.

My mother-in-law and cousins still live in Algiers. Dara and I have many friends in the New Orleans area. Many of them are without power at this point, and Isaac will stay in the area for another full day, continuing to dump rain and lash the city with wind gusts of up to a hundred miles per hour. Please keep the good folks of the Gulf Coast in your thoughts.

Here’s the beginning of an article I posted one year ago today:

“Six years ago, on another Monday, August 29th, Hurricane Katrina, a Category Three storm pushing a Category Five storm surge, slammed into coastal Mississippi. For the first twelve hours after landfall, the city of New Orleans appeared to have avoided the worst. But then the levees designed to hold back Lake Pontchartrain began breaking — the Industrial Canal levee, the 17th Street Canal levee between Metairie and the western parts of New Orleans, the London Avenue Canal levee adjacent to the Gentilly neighborhood, and the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet levees that had been meant to protect Chalmette and St. Bernard Parish. Within a day, eighty percent of the City of New Orleans had flooded, and nearly all of St. Bernard Parish was underwater. At least 1,836 people died along the Gulf Coast, most from the flooding, making Katrina the deadliest storm in U.S. history since the 1928 Lake Okeechobee Hurricane in South Florida, when approximately 2,500 people were killed.”

Following Katrina, I worked to rebuild the devastated Lousiana Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which lost three of four food warehouses and three-quarters of its vehicles in the storm and the post-storm flooding. I then worked two-and-a-half years with FEMA, part of a management team hired to introduce some program management vigor to the problem-plagued Temporary Housing Program.

I believe it was just a month or two ago that I read that the last FEMA trailer in Southeastern Louisiana had finally been vacated. And now they may have to start in all over again, at least with some folks down in Plaquemines Parish.

My Old Stomping Grounds

The oil and gas industry in New Orleans isn't what it once was; much of it has moved to Houston

I worked in New Orleans’ Central Business District for nearly twenty years. For the first fifteen I worked at the old State Office Building on Loyola Avenue, surrounded by City Hall, Charity Hospital, the Main Downtown Branch of the New Orleans Public Library, and the Downtown/Superdome Holiday Inn, formerly the Howard Johnson’s. Later I worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Gulf Coast Recovery District, then the Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office, headquartered at 1250 Poydras Street, at the corner of Poydras and Loyola Avenue.

So I have a lot of personal history with that area. A work trip brought me back this past week to 1250 Poydras, to support some sessions of computer training for federal field agents. Some things hadn’t changed, as some things seem to never change in New Orleans. Other things had changed quite a lot.

The Downtown/Superdome Holiday Inn, famous for its clarinet mural; once, when a Howard Johnson's, infamous for being the site of a sniper's rampage

Things that haven’t changed? The Downtown/Superdome Holiday Inn where I used to park while working at the Office of Public Health still has its eighteen-story tall mural of a clarinet and its garage level murals of the Faubourg St. Mary neighborhood as it appeared just before the Civil War. Before it became a Holiday Inn, it was a Howard Johnson’s, infamous as the site of Mark Essex’s killing spree on January 7, 1973. Essex, a member of the Black Panthers, carried out his first killings a week earlier, on New Year’s Eve, 1972, when he murdered two police officers with a sniper’s rifle. On January 7, he invaded the Howard Johnson’s, killed two white tourists at random and shot the manager and assistant manager of the hotel; both died. Essex died himself from at least one of nearly two hundred gunshot wounds he suffered on the roof of the hotel, as he engaged in a gun battle with police overhead in a Marine helicopter and sharp shooters stationed on the roofs of adjacent high rises (one of which is currently in the process of being demolished; it is the derelict white building, minus all its windows, behind the current Holiday Inn; it used to be a fashionable office building, then an apartment building, but it has stood derelict and abandoned as long as I can remember). For the full story of Mark Essex’s life and murderous rampage, check out A Terrible Thunder: the Story of the New Orleans Sniper, by journalist Peter Hernon.

Nineteenth century commercial buildings on South Rampart Street, empty since the 1990s

A row of nineteenth century commercial buildings still stands at the corner of South Rampart and Gravier Streets, behind the Holiday Inn. I used to walk past them every weekday on my way to lunch at a bagel shop on Carondolet Street (I read the New Yorker article on a pair of rival liposuctionists which inspired me to write The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 at that bagel shop). They were unused then, twenty years ago. They are still unused today. Handsome buildings. I wish someone would figure out something to do with them (aside from demolish them for surface parking lots, which that side of downtown is full of).

The intersection of Perdido Street and South Rampart Street, one of the few remaining buildings significant to the early history of jazz

Then there’s the building at the corner of Perdido and South Rampart Streets — the home of the Eagle Saloon and Oddfellow’s Hall, perhaps the most important surviving building in the history of early jazz music in New Orleans. Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, and Buddy Petit all played there. All of the building’s neighbors have been demolished, so it sits like an island of musical and cultural history, gathering dust. Back when I was working in the neighborhood, the empty building sported signs announcing that it would soon be restored as part of a jazz museum and cultural center. The signs came down sometime after Hurricane Katrina. Now it just sits there, empty, with apparently no renovation plans afoot, in danger of becoming yet another surface parking lot.

That empty rectangle between the white parking garage and the trees of Duncan Plaza is where I worked for fifteen years

The things that have changed? Some of the things I remember are now gone. I spent so much time at the State Office Building on Loyola Avenue, headquarters for the Louisiana Office of Public Health, between 1992 and Hurricane Katrina that the old 1950s government building felt like a second home. I applied for two marriage licenses on the building’s first floor. I organized the New Year Coalition to stop holiday gunfire and wrote portions of my first four horror and science fiction novels either in the building or in coffee shops and food courts within a block or two of my office. After the levees broke following Hurricane Katrina, the tunnel that connected the State Office Building with Charity Hospital a block away flooded. The flooding caused the water pressure in my building to surge, resulting in all the toilets and sinks on the first four floors overflowing for several weeks. One of my first duties upon returning to New Orleans after the storm was to help evacuate the stricken building of all essential equipment and files. The State Department of Health and Hospitals did nothing to try to save the building from mold and decay while they negotiated with FEMA regarding having the federal agency pay for demolition and construction of a new state office building. After four years of wrangling, FEMA agreed to pay for the demolition, but not for reconstruction. My old department now plans to lease space in an office tower adjacent to the Superdome that is owned by Saints owner Tom Benson. The old building was in the process of being demolished when I left New Orleans in the summer of 2009. Now its footprint is an empty slab of concrete and grass, which I was able to look down upon from the training room I visited on the twenty-third floor of the 1250 Poydras building. It was a disorienting feeling to look down on an empty space where so much of my adult life had unfolded. This was once Louis Armstrong’s childhood neighborhood. Most of its homes were torn down to construct the city’s government center. Now portions of the government center are coming down… to be replaced with what? I’m sure many in city and state government now wish they would have preserved the Armstrong family home.

I remember a stately row of nineteenth century commercial storefronts on Common Street between South Rampart Street and University Place, one of which had been the first photography studio owned by an African-American photographer in New Orleans. Its last commercial use, if I remember right, had been a shoe store. A few years before I left the city, when the building’s owner announced it would be demolished (to be replaced by a parking garage, of course), there was a push in the historic preservation community to have it declared a landmark, but the effort failed. There is no garage there now, just an empty patch of grass… and one of the strangest public artworks I’ve ever come across, a group of French Quarter-style street lamps twisted together into a giant street lamp tarantula.

There used to be a late nineteenth century block of storefronts on this lot; now there's a patch of grass and a street lamp tarantula

The view out my hotel window: the old Kress Five and Dime, now the Ritz Carlton Hotel

A few things in the neighborhood have changed for the better. The old Kress Five and Dime Store, underutilized or empty for a number of years, is now home to Ritz Carlton Hotel. The wonderful old Joy Theater reopened this past December; once the largest movie theater on Canal Street, it is now a performing arts venue. Canal Street now boasts a handsome International House of Pancakes, probably the most attractive restaurant in the entire chain.

Some things which haven’t changed since I moved away are things I wish would change, however — like the Orpheum Theater across the street from the Roosevelt Hotel where I stayed, once the home of the New Orleans Symphony, which flooded after Hurricane Katrina and now sits defaced with graffiti, or the Saenger Theater, whose renovation and reopening have been stalled by bureaucratic red tape and political infighting. I hope the Joy (and perhaps the Saenger across the street) can be a catalyst for the redevelopment of the western/lake side of downtown Canal Street, which appears more neglected, shoddy, and abandoned than at any other time I can remember.

Me with Marian Moore, New Orleans science fiction writer and the Krewe de Jieux's Jewish American Princess for 2012

The best things that remain for me in New Orleans, though? Those would be my friends. I enjoyed dinners with several of my oldest friends from my time in the city, including Dr. Leslie Lyons, with whom I attended Loyola, Kat B. Kay, fellow science fiction fan and congregant at Shir Chadash, and Marian Moore, one of the longest serving members of George Alec Effinger’s writing critique group, and an impressive science fiction writer in her own right. I miss all of my New Orleans friends very much, and I’m fortunate that my work allowed me to pay some of them a visit. Maybe the next time I go down I’ll be able to bring my boys, all of whom were born in the Crescent City. Asher, in fact, was born on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday; we nearly named him Endymion, because the parade traffic that snarled the Mid-City and Broadmoor neighborhoods almost kept us from reaching Baptist Hospital in time for Dara to deliver. The 2012 Endymion parade rolled two days after I returned to Virginia this past week, on a rainy Saturday.

Seeing New Orleans After a Two Year Absence

Not everything is A-OK in New Orleans, but lots of things are slowly getting better

Yes, indeed, I know what it means to miss New Orleans…

Not that life in Northern Virginia has been bad. Far from it. In some key ways, life has improved for my family since our move. But no other place can fully replace New Orleans – its people, its neighborhoods, its music, its festivals, its profusion of places to hang out and simply be. I tell people that life is just bigger in New Orleans than it is in other places; the highs there are much loftier than average, and the lows there are very, very low. It is a very romantic place to live. Fabulously fun if you’re single and have few responsibilities; tough as hell if you’re trying to raise a family.

So what’s changed in the past two years?

Once the site of Royal Street News, where Jules bought his big girl porn

Everywhere I drove, the streets are getting torn up and remade. General de Gaulle in Algiers on the West Bank. Loyola Avenue and South Rampart Street downtown. South Carrollton Avenue in Uptown. The treacherous old Huey B. Long Bridge over the Mississippi, connecting Elmwood and Bridge City, built during the Depression, is at last being upgraded to the standards of the latter half of the twentieth century (always a terror to drive across due to its narrow lanes, built for the cars of 1935, maybe it’ll be less stomach-shriveling a couple of years from now). Several new library branches are finally replacing old libraries that got flooded out during the Katrina disaster. I saw one going up in my old neighborhood, at the edge of Village Aurora in Algiers, still a steel skeleton but at least progressing. All good news; the tail end of all that FEMA money is finally reaching the streets.

"Fangs station" at Boutique du Vampyre

Oak Street in Carrollton is bustling, busier and more full of shops and restaurants than I’ve ever seen it before; it reminds me of what the section of Magazine Street between Louisiana and Washington Avenues used to look like, funky and colorful (before it went a little too upscale). Boutique du Vampyre has moved from Orleans to Toulouse in the French Quarter, gaining a little space in the transition. My favorite “big girls” stripper bar in the Quarter is now a memory, the place where it was on Decatur in the Quarter empty and forlorn-looking. The Maple Street Children’s Books Shop is also gone, apparently done in by the Uptown Borders Books during its brief, two-year existence on St. Charles Avenue. There are now designated bicycle lanes on Carrollton Avenue and St. Charles Avenue.

Maureen Remoulade's house in the upper French Quarter

What hasn’t changed in the past two years?

P.J.’s Coffee on General de Gaulle still serves a great cup of joe, and the gals behind the counter there are still pretty and friendly. Airline Highway (yes, I know it’s been renamed Airline Drive, but I’ll always think of it as Airline Highway) still retains its beat up used cars lots and seedy motels. Octavia Books is still one of the country’s best independent bookstores. More Fun Comics is still more fun than your average comics shop. Kim Son Vietnamese Restaurant still has a menu it would take you a year to sample every item from if you ate one item per visit and went five times a week. The streets throughout New Aurora in Algiers are still in crappy shape and will bust out your transmission and your muffler if you drive over them faster than twenty miles per hour. It is still almost impossible to eat a bad meal in the French Quarter (you can if you try, but you have to really try). The derelict bowling alley on the West Bank Expressway across from the Quality Inn (formerly the Clarion Inn, formerly the Holiday Inn) is still derelict, but all the small businesses in the shabby shopping center surrounding it still seem to be doing a surprisingly darn good business, including Pho Tau Bay Restaurant and Barry Manufacturing (where I bought a terrific sports coat for my birthday). The fire station at the corner of Shirley Avenue and General de Gaulle in Algiers still doesn’t have a repaired roof, more than six years after Hurricane Katrina, despite being only blocks away from the site of the former FEMA Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office.

Birthday dinner at Kim Son: standing are Gwen Moore, Fritz Ziegler, me, and Rob Cerio; seated are Marian Moore and Cherie Cerio

Something else that hasn’t changed? The wonderful willingness of strangers to enter into conversations, and of friends to spend hours talking in any reasonably accommodating space. I reconnected with many old friends during my visit – Fritz Ziegler, Marian Moore, Marc McCandless, Diana Rowland, and Gwen Moore from my old writing workshop group, the one founded by George Alec Effinger back in 1988; and Gulf Coast and Southern fandom friends such as Maxy Pertuit, Frank Schiavo, Raymond Boudreau, Allan Gilbreath, Lee Martindale, and Rebecca Smith. I also made some wonderful new friends at CONtraflow – John Guidry, Michael Scott, Dean Sweatman, Rob and Cherie Cerio, Jennie Faries, and Kalila Smith.

The reliably nutty Clover Grill on Bourbon Street, where Mayor Roy Rio and Lily went to be naughty

But one of the most endearing and unique qualities of New Orleans and the surrounding region is that you are perfectly capable of meeting (and very likely to meet) new friends, or at least very friendly acquaintances, virtually anywhere you go. I stopped in for a quick lunch at a little French Quarter luncheonette on Dauphine Street where I used to go when I worked at FEMA downtown, only noticing that it had a new name and new ownership after I’d sat down and looked at the menu. I ended up enjoying one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth – a redfish slider with dill mayo – and a great conversation with the owner, Billy, who had opened the place, Nosh, only a year earlier. I wanted to buy myself a sport coat to replace one I’d torn a hole in and ended up at Barry Manufacturing at 95 West Bank Expressway, across from my convention hotel. I used to be in sales myself (I sold Saturn cars and trucks for a brief time), so I appreciate a sales job done right. Alphonse at Barry did me right; I saw one jacket I fell in love with, but it fit me like a glove, with no give whatsoever, and Alphonse was honest enough to tell me I’d have problems if I so much as gained a pound. He didn’t have the same jacket one size bigger, darn it, but I liked his stock, and I liked his prices, I liked him, so I looked until I found another jacket I liked almost as much, and that fit me much better. Sale!

Making the donuts at Marrero's Coffee &, a West Bank spot Jules Duchon wouldn't mind hanging out in

And then there was Coffee &, a little coffee and donut shop on Manhattan Boulevard in Marrero that I’d driven past hundreds of times when I lived on the West Bank. I’d never gotten around to stopping in there, even though I’m a big coffee drinker; I think their tinted windows sort of put me off, making me dubious of what I’d find if I opened their door. But Saturday morning I found myself in their strip center and hungry for breakfast and desperate for coffee, so I said, “What the hell?” And you know what? I loved the place! As soon as I walked in and saw the counter and the counter staff and the selection of donuts and the signs listing the breakfast specials, I said to myself, “Ooohh, nice, I like this joint…” I sat at the counter near the door into the kitchen, where I could watch the staff mix the batter for the donuts. I got scrambled eggs and hash browns and coffee (with endless refills, of course) for less than five bucks. Plus, I had a super time kibitzing with the staff. You know you’re in a good spot when one of the customers sitting next to you is an employee, there during her own time, who came in for coffee and breakfast because she likes the place and loves the people who work there. A neat bonus was that Coffee & sells coffee travel mugs exactly of the type I’ve been looking for – all plastic, so safe for the microwave, with a sturdy closable top that won’t leak on me. Liked ‘em so much I bought two to bring back to Virginia with me (the second one for Dara, who deserved a new coffee mug).

My only disappointments with my trip were that I wasn’t able to bring my family down with me – all three of my boys were born in New Orleans – and that I couldn’t squeeze in more time to visit with my mother-in-law and my cousins than I did. And there were old favorite bookstores and coffeehouses I didn’t get to. I’ll just have to find excuses for more trips, I guess. The place still feels like home, and I suspect it always will.

Country Flame, one of the best spots for cheap eats in the Quarter

Remembering Katrina, Six Years On

It’s Monday, August 29th.

Six years ago, on another Monday, August 29th, Hurricane Katrina, a Category Three storm pushing a Category Five storm surge, slammed into coastal Mississippi. For the first twelve hours after landfall, the city of New Orleans appeared to have avoided the worst. But then the levees designed to hold back Lake Pontchartrain began breaking — the Industrial Canal levee, the 17th Street Canal levee between Metairie and the western parts of New Orleans, the London Avenue Canal levee adjacent to the Gentilly neighborhood, and the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet levees that had been meant to protect Chalmette and St. Bernard Parish. Within a day, eighty percent of the City of New Orleans had flooded, and nearly all of St. Bernard Parish was underwater. At least 1,836 people died along the Gulf Coast, most from the flooding, making Katrina the deadliest storm in U.S. history since the 1928 Lake Okeechobee Hurricane in South Florida, when approximately 2,500 people were killed.

Thank God Hurricane Irene wasn’t worse than it was. The worst effects of Irene appear to be the delayed effects, the post-storm swelling of rivers and streams. Vermont, where Irene swept through as a tropical storm, looks to be suffering the worst flooding. Seeing the photos of homes inundated with rushing water brought back a lot of memories. Those folks in Vermont and New Jersey and the flooded portions of Philadelphia are going to have many tough months ahead of them. Water is a terrible destroyer of homes, far worse than high winds. Winds may leave many beloved possessions behind, still salvageable. Water, and the mold growth it induces, rots one’s possessions and turns them to foul, stinking garbage. It’s an awful thing to witness.

My family and I were stranded in Albuquerque, New Mexico six years ago. We’d flown out with our two baby sons and four days’ worth of clothing and medicines to attend the Bubonicon science fiction convention and to visit my parents. We weren’t able to return to our home in New Orleans for almost two months. We had the great fortune that our house was located on the west bank of the Mississippi, in a different flood plain from the majority of New Orleans, and so was spared the flooding that devastated over a hundred thousand homes. But had the storm made landfall just fifteen miles more to the west, it would have been our levees that breached, and our neighborhood would have been inundated with up to nine feet of water.

My hopes go out to all those folks who will be rebuilding after a flood. It is heartbreaking, backbreaking, stinking work. But somehow, it gets done.

I’ve posted an article I wrote called “Crossing the River Styx,” which was about my return to New Orleans six weeks after the levees broke. It originally appeared in Moment Magazine in April, 2006. The congregations I describe in the article have all rebuilt and are once more thriving, six years on.

Curse of Vintage Laptop Madness

What did Hurricane Katrina have to do with my obsession for vintage laptops? Quite a bit, as things turned out. Yes, we’ve reached the end of Vintage Laptop Computer Madness Week here at Fantastical Andrew While Hurricane Katrina did not directly destroy or drown my vast collection of vintage machines, it set in motion a complex series of events in my family’s lives that ultimately led to the dissolution of the majority of my ponderous accumulation. Where most of my machines ended up, however, remains a mystery…

I present, for your reading pleasure, the final installment of “Lust for a Laptop, or the Madness of the Compulsive Collector.”

For the convenience of those of you just discovering this novella-length memoir of my writing life at the dawn of the Portable Computing Age, I’ve placed links to all six installments below.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

Bride of Vintage Laptop Madness

swimming pool at the Heartbreak Hotel

We’re now in the home stretch of Vintage Laptop Computer Madness Week here at Fantastical Andrew As one might suspect from the title of this post, today’s installment describes how I met my second and present wife, Dara, and how our romance and eventual marriage put a stop to my runaway purchasing of vintage laptop computers. But not before I managed to break the underfloor joists at the back of my house with the weight of my laptops.

I describe doing research with Dara at Graceland for my novel about how Elvis’s liposuctioned belly fat might save the planet thirty years from now — Calorie 3501, later published as The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501.

I also talk a bit about the upsides and downsides of living in one of New Orleans’ ungentrified historic neighborhoods. I ended up the next door neighbor to a crack dealer, whose most regular customer, a man I named The Whistler, robbed me of sleep and peace of mind on an almost nightly basis. After our marriage, Dara and I moved to a bigger house on the West Bank, allowing me to finally escape The Whistler. We welcomed our first two sons into our family, and I ran out of vintage laptops to buy. Then I began feeling ashamed of myself for going on such an extended buying binge. But I didn’t have long to wallow in my shame, because just then the you-know-what hit the fan in New Orleans…

You can find part five of “Lust for a Laptop, or the Madness of the Obsessive Collector” here.

House of Vintage Laptop Madness

GRiD Compass 1101; first laptop in space

Bear with me, gentle readers. We’re on the downslope of Vintage Laptop Computer Madness Week here at Fantastical Andrew Today’s installment is the heart of the story. The rubber meets the road. I dive into my obsession head first, without checking the depth of the water. My collectivitis metastasizes into a full-blown case. I single-handedly boost the stock valuation of eBay (okay, just kidding about that). I justify my out-of-control bidding and buying by planning to write a book on the hobby of collecting vintage laptops. I secretly plan to corner the market. I believe my own bullshit. I blow wads of cash. I begin filling up my house with laptops.

Watch out, James Frey! You wanna talk about A Million Little Pieces? How about A Million Little Laptops? Oprah, here I come… if you weren’t off the air..

Installment four of “Lust for a Laptop, or the Madness of the Obsessive Collector” can be found here.

Again, Vintage Laptop Madness

1989 ad for the magnificent Poqet PC, touting advantages over its rivals

We’ve reached the midpoint of Vintage Laptop Computer Madness Week here at Fantastical Andrew Today’s installment zeroes in on one of my greatest acquisitions ever, the fabulous Poqet PC. This was the tiny machine with the wonderful keyboard on which I would compose first drafts of Fat White Vampire Blues, Bride of the Fat White Vampire, and The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501.

This installment has lots of juicy stuff in it, for those of you with a special appreciation for the inside dope; I tell some stories on myself here. I get divorced. I get depressed. I get on an antidepressant. I start dating again. I begin writing Fat White Vampire Blues. My cute Poqet PC helps me score with a French Canadian doctoral student. I rewrite her dissertation in linguistics. She dumps me. I buy my first house. I get what seems like a great idea… that leads me into a whole heap of trouble down the line…

You can find installment three of “Lust for a Laptop, or the Madness of the Compulsive Collector” here.

More Vintage Laptop Madness!

Continuing Vintage Laptop Computer Madness Week here at Fantastical Andrew, today we have for your kind perusal installment two of Lust for a Laptop, or the Madness of the Obsessive Collector.

In today’s installment, I make my big move back to New Orleans in the fall of 1990. I start writing my first novel on my new Panasonic laptop at Borsodi’s Coffeehouse. I inadvertently do performance art with said laptop. Laptop #1 suffers fatal injury during Hurricane Andrew. Laptop #2 is even better, though: a three-pound Gateway HandBook! A relative is killed on New Year’s Eve by a falling bullet fired in celebration. I start the New Year Coalition to rid the city of the scourge of holiday gunfire. I use the HandBook to keep myself at least partially organized and sane. The stress of the campaign does severe damage to my first marriage. I try to set things right by pulling on a pair of rented rollerblades…

It’s the beginnings of my plunge into the Portable Computing Revolution of the 1990s! It’s the Big Easy! It’s trauma and tragedy (and low comedy)! Read it!

George Alec Effinger’s Thousand Deaths

I’ve posted the Afterword I wrote for the third Golden Gryphon Press collection of George Alec Effinger’s short fiction, A Thousand Deaths. The essay is a reflection on how George’s favorite of his novels, The Wolves of Memory (included in the collection), ended up being a foretelling of the grinding events of the final decade of his sadly shortened life.

Marty Halpern, the last editor George worked with prior to George’s death in April, 2002, was the driving force behind bringing the best of George’s short fiction back into print. Marty (who also happens to be the best editor I’ve ever worked with — he edited The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 for me at Tachyon Publications) posted a terrific three part essay on his blog, More Red Ink, describing his role in the publication of the three GAE collections at Golden Gryphon. Here’s Part One, regarding Budayeen Nights; Part Two, regarding George Alec Effinger Live! from Planet Earth; and Part Three, regarding A Thousand Deaths. All three Golden Gryphon collections featured gorgeous wrap-around covers by my favorite artist, John Picacio.

By the way, Marty is available for freelance work, either line editing or book doctoring. The man has the eyes of an eagle and is persnickety in all the best ways. If you need an editor, I couldn’t recommend a better one.

Several years before I wrote the Afterword for A Thousand Deaths, I wrote a rambling and much more personal version of my friendship with George Alec Effinger and how I did what I could to help him during the last few years of his life. I published the piece on my first website from 2003-2006 (after which said website went defunct). That piece, “Remembering George Alec Effinger,” can be found here, courtesy of the Internet Way-Back Machine.

New Stuff Added to Articles and Stories Pages

I’ve posted a couple of new items. I retrieved “The Secret Origin of Jules Duchon, Vampire! Or, How Jules Duchon, New Orleans Bloodsucker, Got So Darned Fat” from my old website and added it to the Articles page. I also added my personal favorite of the short stories I’ve written, a piece I’m really proud of called “The Man Who Would Be Kong.” It first appeared in SCIFI.COM back in 2005, in the final monthly edition of the online fiction magazine SCI FICTION, edited by Ellen Datlow. I snuck in right before the powers-that-be pulled the plug on one of the best magazines going.

Jules vs. Breezy

I added the only Fat White Vampire short story I’ve ever written, “Jules Versus Breezy,” which also serves as a little memorial piece for my very dear friend, Robert Borsodi. To me, Bob was one of the people who made New Orleans such a fantastical, enchanting place. He had operated bohemian coffeehouses in ten different locations by the time he arrived in New Orleans in the late 1970s; he’d founded his first in New Haven in 1959, when he’d been a student at Yale, before he went into the Marines (it is so very, very hard for me to imagine Bob Borsodi in the United States Marines; but Bob, like Walt Whitman, contained multitudes). He opened his first New Orleans coffeehouse on Daneel Street, next door to what was then the Penny Post and is now the Neutral Ground Coffeehouse, a folk music club. His second, best known location was on Freret Street, about a half mile east of Tulane and Loyola Universities. It was a huge, warehouse-like space, with the espresso bar in front and a stage in back big enough for full scale plays. Bob lived in a kind of hidden alcove above the stage, with access to the building’s roof. The entire coffeehouse served as a colossal collage, an ever-evolving art installation made up of whatever Bob and his regulars felt like gluing to the walls and furniture. I first met Bob in 1983, while I was an undergraduate at Loyola, shortly after I moved into an apartment in the neighborhood. I did my laundry at a shabby little washateria next to Bob’s place, and while I was waiting for my wash to finish, I’d go next door for a cup of tea or an Italian soda and a chat with Bob. He didn’t have his beard then, and he was open during the afternoons, which he wasn’t in later years, although the place was mostly deserted before about seven at night. He was interested in Loyola because he thought his son might attend. We got to be pretty good friends over the next three years. Upon graduation, I swore to him that I intended to move back to New Orleans someday. I don’t think he believed me.

The next time I saw Bob was after I moved to Northport, New York in Long Island’s Suffolk County. Bob had taken a crew of his friends and regulars to perform one of his plays, Musk, at Theater for the New City in the East Village in Manhattan. The stage set looked just like Borsodi’s Coffeehouse in New Orleans. I immediately felt homesick. I invited Bob and his lady friend, Sara Beth, to come stay with me at my apartment in Northport. They stayed the night and walked around the harbor and the old downtown. I promised again that I would move back to New Orleans someday. Again, I don’t think Bob believed me.

Less than two years later, I picked myself up and plunked myself back in New Orleans, with no plans or prospects other than finishing my first novel. . . at Borsodi’s Coffeehouse. Bob was really the one who drew me back to New Orleans. So I have much to thank him for, since everything that is most wonderful in my life has its roots in my time in New Orleans. I’ll write more about my return to New Orleans and my experiences at Borsodi’s Coffeehouse in an essay I’m finishing up called “Lust for a Laptop, or the Madness of the Obsessive Collector.”

I wrote the little story here linked to in 1998, for Bob’s sixtieth birthday. Four years later, suffering from incurable cancer that had spread through much of his body, in unbearable pain, Bob threw himself off the Hale Boggs Bridge in Luling, about thirty miles west of New Orleans. The city hasn’t quite been itself since.

Bones of the Ancient Website

Oh, just for giggles, here’s a link to the old Andrew Fox Books website, circa its “glory days” of August, 2004, thanks to the magic of the Internet Wayback Machine. Feast your eyes on the low resolution graphics! Thrill to my book signing schedule in the summer of 2004! Chill to the porn invasion yet to come!

Welcome to My New Online “Den”

Well, well, it’s been a while. . .

Aside from little forays here and there — some interviews, commenting on other folks’ blogs — I’ve been “off the net” for a few years now.  My original website, erected in 2003 to coincide with the publication of my first book, Fat White Vampire Blues, died three years later in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  My webmaster owned a beautiful, historic home in the Bywater neighborhood, which ended up covered in seven feet of flood waters after the levees broke.  He vanished, and I, distracted by a bazillion post-disaster concerns, allowed my website to languish, failing even to pay the renewal fee on my domain name.

Gentle readers, here’s a hint — don’t let your domain name expire.  It will be immediately colonized by a porn site.  I began receiving emails from dismayed or bemused readers and friends: “Hey, what’s the deal?  Did you go into the porn business???”  No, I did not.  However, my former domain name, which I will not list here because I have no desire to send more business to the rascals who took over my abandoned property, is now forever associated with bad photography, plain paper wrappings, and men living in their mother’s basements (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  I know this for certain because, during my recent exertions putting together this new site, I went to the Internet Wayback Machine in an effort to salvage materials from my old site.  I attempted to do this at the office (not wise, but I’ve been eager to get this site up and running).  Taxpayers, rest easy — your government has very secure filters to block employees from viewing porn.  Even when I directed the Internet Wayback Machine to take me back to 2003, to years before I abandoned my domain name, still the electronic nanny blocked my access and informed me that I had attempted to view porn.  There I was, trying to salvage old articles about George Alec Effinger and my obsession of collecting vintage laptop computers, and the censor built into my network was berating me for trying to view porn, porn, PORN.  Let that be a lesson to you.  Pay your bills in a timely fashion, particularly for your domain name.

After the pornification of my website, I took to blogging at the Night Shades Books message boards, which, in the middle years of the last decade, were a thriving community of hundreds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers and fans.  I used their boards as an emergency communication tool to reach friends and family during the months my immediate family and I were trapped away from our home in Katrina’s wake, first in Albuquerque and later in Miami, and my posts evolved into an ongoing commentary on being exiled, returning home, and participating in the rebuilding of New Orleans.  Unfortunately, an invasion of spambots utterly infested the message boards sometime in 2007, driving out the majority of participants, and eventually Night Shade shut their boards down.  The demise of that community was a real shame.  Lucius Shepherd, all by himself, had nearly 30,000 posts on his boards and sub-boards by the time the end came.  Maybe this August, when the next anniversary of Katrina approaches, I’ll try to salvage some of those old disaster-related posts and provide a sampling here.

Anyway, over the next few weeks, I’ll be unboxing my old knicknacks, touching up their paint, and displaying them on the freshly dusted shelves of my new den here, along with lots of new stuff.  Among the new stuff will be an article called “A New Hope, A New Tack,” which explains where I’ve been these past few years, what I’ve been up to, and why I’ve chosen now to get back into the swing of blogging.

Meanwhile, I’ll be doing my darndest to get the hang of WordPress.  I’m liking it so far.  A lot.  Putting up my own site is a much different experience than paying someone to do it for me.  Rather than having it updated three or four times a year, I’ll be fiddling with this den of mine constantly, moving the furniture, adjusting the pictures on the walls, and patching drafty spots around the windows.  I expect it’ll be a lot of fun.

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