Friday, December 30, 2005

A thousand words at a time...

The Times-Picayune asked me to write an op-ed piece. And they wanted it to be about animals. I was pretty convinced I had nothing left to say on the subject, but then FEMA announced their plans to use therapy dogs in the shelters of homeless Katrina victims. Everything fell into place. But I seem to write everything in 1000 word chunks these days, so there were 250 words that I had to cut out--mostly information on the state of the LA-SPCA and some of what I did in my attempts to save the dog in question. But the short version is just as good as the extended cut. And you can read it here:The Times-Picayune.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Perhaps at some point they will be able to use DNA to identify the remains of our missing federal government

Bosnia has joined the many foreign countries who have stepped forward to assist New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm.


Under an agreement between The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) and the State of Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, labs in Bosnia and Herzegovina will use DNA testing on an estimated 260 to 350 bone samples to assist in identification of victims of Katrina.

The ICMP is now also working with the authorities in Iraq on finding ways to address the missing persons issue there and, as a humanitarian measure, is helping to identify victims of last December’s Indian Ocean tsunami.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Photo caption contest

On the corner of Chartres and Desire
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
Here it is: my first contest.

The photo was taken on the corner of Chartres and Desire. Post your idea of a more colorful caption or headline here. And...I guess I'll have to come up with a prize!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New Orleans suicide watch

The New York Times reports that the suicide rate has skyrocketed in the past two months. Seven have been confirmed--which is what the yearly rate would be in cities of similar size. And they expect it will continue to climb before it gets better.

Meanwhile, although the city still has little support to try to recover from the storm--which hit in August, remember--the population is expected to double in the next month as universities and related businesses return.

The good news: FEMA has finally agreed to hire electrical inspectors, so they may finally begin restoriing power to the 80% of the city that is still in the dark.

I've been spending a lot of time in bed.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Bookselling 101

When The Week published a nice little review of Dog Culture a few weeks ago, I emailed my publisher to let them know that Amazon, Powells and other stores had completely sold out of their existing stock. The only copies available were the paperback at Barnes and Noble online. The hardcovers were completely sold out everywhere. Amazon listed the paperback as available in two weeks--not the kind of language that inspires a sale. And, in fact, rather than selling new copies, they sold more than thirty used copies.

My publisher assured me: they'll reorder. Two weeks later, they still list the book as shipping in two weeks and now Barnes and Noble is out of stock too. The fact is--judging by the listings--no distributor in the country has the book stocked either. How do I know this? Well, this is how online listings work: if the book is in stock with the retailer it "ships in 24 hours". If it is out of stock with them but in stock with a distributor, it "ships in two to three days."

So this stalemate could go on indefinately--for weeks, or months, who knows--and then the retailer,who hasn't had any stock to sell, will look at the sales record and see that the book hasn't been selling.

When I was on tour with The Kind I'm Likely to Get I ran into this problem. Stores were trying to get copies of my previous book, The KGB Bar Reader. The warehouses were rejecting orders, refusing to fulfill them, because there were no books. Then, when books were finally available, Barnes and Noble didn't reorder because they hadn't sold any copies in the previous months.

But none of my own stories are as maddening as one that occurred to a friend of mine. Pubhished by a major house, he sold 80 copies at a New York City Barnes and Noble. A few weeks later I went into the store and couldn't find any copies. Their computers insisted they had two. No one could find these two copies anywhere. Would they reorder? I asked. "Well," they said, "it hasn't sold any copies in the past two weeks."

"How could it?" I said. "You don't have any copies to sell?"

And that's when they pushed the panic button located beneath the register.

Friday, December 23, 2005

James Frey has a few things to say about The Dogs Who Found Me

Pitbulls pitbulls pitbulls, and a man, like me, who loves them.
Alternately brutal and sentimental, like the lives of the dogs he
rescues. A very very cool book. --James Frey, author of A Million
Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Never leave the house without a camera

For a while after I returned to New Orleans, I didn't want to carry a camera around with me, because there were too many other things to deal with beyond playing disaster tourist. And every day I'd see some odd little detail that I wished I could capture on film. Then I spent a few days with the camera in my bag, just in case. But that habit grew old too. A few days ago I almost grabbed the camera on the way out the door, but I left it behind, thinking "What could I possibly take a picture of now?"

Here is what I could have photographed:

1. A few blocks from my house, a mile long train carrying nothing but new, shiny FEMA trailers for as far as I could see.

2. On the way home, passing the exploded propane tank warehouse, I spotted two people and a giant marionette among the ruins, performing I-don't-know-what while a third person captured it on video.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Signed copies...

Some lunatic is trying to sell a signed copy of Dog Culture on Amazon...for $220.00.

I'll happily sell a signed copy for something closer to $10. And it will be personallzed too.

And, if you really have 200 dollars burning a hole in your pocket, I'll sign twenty copies. Maybe even 22.

Rabbit on the loose in New Orleans has neighborhood message boards that were incredibly helpful in keeping displaceds residents informed while evacuated. Lately, unfortunately, the messages have degenerated into idiotic, racist rants (from just a few people) addressing their concerns over the possible return of men in baggy pants. Occasionally, things return to normal:

A post from last night:
Missing a Rabbit?
Late last nite I actually saw a RABBIT on Rampart near Montegut. It was tan and pretty large, with upright ears. It's possible it was wild, but I've never seen a rabbit in our area before. I had a pet rabbit for five years when I was a kid-thought this one might be someone's lost pet. I tried to call to it (don't laugh!) but it made a right on Montegut toward the river.

The response:
My rabbit
That crazy rabbit took up with my 80 lbs Doberman a couple of years ago and has been living in my yard. The rabbit surived Katrina under the house but has gotten rather lonely since the dog had to be put to sleep due to old age back in June and now with fewer people and stray cats in the area lately, he roams the neighborhood more. He even survived the rogue animal rescue groups. So don't worry about him, he's a true survivor.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Where to find Dog Culture now that people are looking

There seems to have been a run on copies of Dog Culture this week, thanks to the review in The Week. So if you are looking for a copy, here's what I can tell you:

Amazon: Sold out of new copies of both the paperback and the hardcover; a few used copies available, plenty of used paperbacks.

Barnes and Noble: Sold out of the hardcover; some new paperbacks still available.

Powells: three paperbacks left; sold out of all hardbacks and all used copies.

Strand: four used hardcovers available this morning.

If you live in New Orleans: copies are available at Beth's Books next to Sound Cafe.

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Dog Culture" featured in The Week

Andrew Blauner, an agent (but not mine) and editor of a new anthology called Coach, was asked to pick his six favorite anthologies for The Week--a magazine that mostly reprints journalism from the past week. My first dog book--Dog Culture--made the list! Here's what he says:

"Dog Culture edited by Ken Foster (Lyons Press, $17). The writers showcased here are writing not just about their own dogs but on dogs as social lubricant, and other such themes. The collection kicks off with “What Coco Ate” by National Book Award finalist Rene Steinke, and also features excellent pieces by Nicholas Dawidoff, Annie Bruno, and Pearl Abraham. Made me miss my old collie, Drummer."

Amazon brands me illegitimate

In August Amazon began a new program in which authors can sell short works--essays and stories--exclusively on Amazon for 49 cents a piece, sharing the proceeds with a 40/60 split. This intrigued me. Just a few months earlier they were illegally offering a non-existant digital download of my entire story collection. Readers of this blog may recall the inane amount of communication required to get them to stop. So I figured why not give them something to sell. I have a stack of short stories that I wrote last year, and actually submitting them to magazines is an exhausting process that requires driving across New Orleans to find a functioning post office--or submitting online, paying a fee (to the Missouri Review for example, which charges $2) and getting no response.

So I contacted Amazon Shorts and got an automated response informing me that someone would contact me within three days. Weeks passed. Nothing. I contacted them again. This time, eventually, I got an email detailing all of the selling points of participating in the program. All I needed to do, according to this email, was send a story to the designated email, someone named John Hart. Shortly before sending this email, someone from Amazon came to my website to snoop around.

So I sent a story called "Feral Children," which Frederick Barthelme had liked last spring. In fact, he said "If this isn't published in two weeks..." Meanwhile, having submitted it to Amazon, I got the standard no response. Finally, I decided to email John Hart, and I got an immediate reply:

"Thank you for your submission and interest in Amazon Shorts. Unfortunately, we have decided not to include your work in our program at this time. We appreciate the time and effort you've taken to submit your writing. However, it does not fit the type of material we are currently adding to Amazon Shorts.
In the future we may extend the framework and criteria for the program. We will keep your name and contact information on file in the event that this changes. Good luck in your future writing pursuits. Please feel free to submit any other work you would like to be reviewed.

Type of material? Framework and criteria? According a spokesperson quoted in Poets and Writers Magazine: "We're not judging quality. We're just looking at some very basic elements tomakesure that it's a legitimate piece of content for offering through the program." I decided to go back to the Shorts page and try to decipher what this meant. This is what I could gather: aside from a few isolated contributions from the legitimate Daniel Wallace, Terese Svoboda, and maybe Ann Beattie, they seem to prefer shorts by Danielle Steele and any number of contributers to mystery and chick lit anthologies. Ooops!

Note to aspiring writers: Danielle Steele is legitimate literature. Stories about children raised by animals: totally illegitimate.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ode (not old!) to a blue merle pit bull

Yesterday I went back to the Lousiana SPCA for the first time since Thanksgiving. For a few hours in the morning we sat out on folding chairs in the sun and received training on animal handling from the Nebraska Humane Society. What was most interesting to me was their demonstration of several dog catching tools that they make themselves, including a snare made of a metal pole, a car antenna and nylon rope. Why do they make them instead of buying manufactured tools? Because they want to ensure the safety of the animals. The other interesting fact was that they operate with hundreds of employees and volunteers. The Louisiana SPCA has a handful of each right now.

Other LA SPCA news: they plan to stay at their current, temporary location for two years, while building a new facility elsewhere.

Afterwards, we went into the kennels to practice evaluating the body language of the animals, and I met my latest dog crush, a blue merle pit bull. It was gorgeous, and seemed to appreciate being told so. But then the volunteer behind me looked down and said, "You're ugly!"

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

You get used to it after a while

Warehouse ruins
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
If you were watching the news in the days after the Hurricane, you might remember the wharf and warehouse fires that errupted and burned, unsupervised, as well as the repeated denials from the owner of the warehouse that there was anything dangerous in it.

This is that warehouse. It's about two blocks from my house. When we returned, the smell of propane and incinerated metal and cement lingered in the air. It smelled like 9/11.

Propane bombs

Propane bombs
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
In the rubble of the warehouse are piles of small propane tanks. Thousands of them, stacked four feet high. Some of them exploded and shot through the neighborhood like rockets. You could find them scattered all over. Yesterday I noticed a pair of them decorating a flower bed.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The latest on The Dogs Who Found Me

I'm starting to get some response on my new book, which will be out in March. It is always strange to hear what people think--even when they say good things, there's something quesy about it all, like someone is describing what I did when I was drunk. But so far, I really like what people are seeing in the work. Including this quote, which uses the word 'strange' in a wonderful way. Perhaps that is the real value of advance blurbs--good writers can describe the book much better than the publishers can.

"I read this at once,  and could hardly bear to put it down. This is a wonderful, strange book, beautiful and funny and moving. It's about the necessity of dogs, and about the necessity of the heart. It's for people who love dogs, and for people who don't yet know how to. It delivers something crucial about bravery, the human spirit, and the place that dogs occupy in our landscapes. It's about confronting need, vulnerability and love, and responding."--Roxana Robinson

And here is the tour so far:
March 11  Skylight Books, Los Angeles
March 12  Cody's, Berkeley
March 13  Book Passage, Corte Madera
March 14  ?  
March 15  Booksmith, San Francisco
March 16  Powells, Portland
March 17 or 18   Elliott Bay, Seattle
March 23  Shaman Drum, Ann Arbor
April 7-8  Southern Kentucky Book Festival
April 17,  Barnes and Noble Astor Place, New York
April 25  Prairie Lights, Iowa City

Remember when Apple actually had customer support?

In the old days--and by that I mean the 1990s--you could call Apple and actually speak with people who would help you solve whatever problem you might have with your computer. Now you call in and they won't answer questions unless you pay $49.00 for the service. That's bad enough, but the problem goes beyond that; I'm currently at one hour and fifteen minutes on hold with them.

My old (old meaning 2002) ibook has apparently had a logic board failure. I discovered on Saturday, when my internet was finally installed, that Apple issued a sort of "recall" of this model due to the installation of bad logic boards by the manufacturer. When I called in to the support line, I was told that their offer to repair the logic board had expired a week earlier. The guy on the other end suggested that since Katrina was responsible for my delay in reporting the problem, I could try calling customer relations on Monday. Support and relations are not the same thing,apparently. So today I called in, but the menu doesn't offer a customer relations option. So I waited on hold for another tech person. Explained the whole sequence to him, and sat listening to him fumble around looking for the proper extension. He then disconnected me. I called sales. Waited on hold again, explained the problem and was transfered to ONLINE sales. Explained the problem again and was transfered to another hold, with really awful music playing. And that is where we are now.

Will my next computer be an Apple?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Burning New Orleans down, one building at a time

Fire outside my door
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
This seems to be the plan now that it is clear that flooding didn't completely destroy the city or the spirit of its people. Still, it was a bit of a surprise to wake up at 3:30 with the odd sense that my street was on fire. Then I looked out my door to see this--but amplify the volume of flames, since they don't photograph well. At first I was worried it was the studio on the other side of the fence, and I immediately began to plot the evacuation of the two dogs who live in the yard.

Realizing it was merely the other side of the street didn't add any sense of relief.

Another great block goes down in flames

The amazing two story, frontier-style building next to Bud Rips is gone and it looks likely that the surrounding buildings may be damaged or destroyed as well. For anyone familiar with the block, this was a drycleaner before the storm. Across the street is a furniture studio--part of the complex I live on--and a really great commercial space turned residential property which is always decorated for the holidays.

Brando and I went out to check the damage, but the shower of lit embers was a little more than I could handle. Let's hope our roof doesn't catch fire.

Friday, December 09, 2005

My brief stop at the unemployment office

I stopped by the unemployment office today to see if there was anything I needed to do beyond the online application. There is only one office open in the city, so people have to come from all over to apply if they don't have access to the internet. But today the office decided to close, because they have too much work to do. If I had borrowed a ride or taken the very limited public transportation, I'd have been quite pissed. And I was anyway.

The woman guarding the door did say that I shouldn't expect to hear anything til sometime in January.

Meanwhile, it has come to my attention that the state's deadline for disaster unemployment was November 30, but they waited until December 2 to lay off their own agency staff. I asked the woman if this was intentional.

"Yes," she said, without hesitation.

Jambalaya in Ohio; Chicken Abitafeller in Lousiana

I got an email from the Ohio shelter that took in the adorable rottweiler mix that I found on the street here. They love her too (whew!) and have renamed her: Jambalaya.

Meanwhile, yesterday I rode with Case to Abita Springs to return the free keg of beer that was donated for the Press Street event on Tuesday night. We went to the brew pub, where I had Chicken Abitafeller, which I am sure I ordered purely for the chance to say that out loud. (Grilled chicken, fried oysters, creamed spinach, for those who would ask.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Water Works

I have a feature in the Books section of Time Out New York this week. The subject is the surge of post Katrina books about New Orleans. The title, courtesy of Time Out, is "Water Works: Odes to New Orleans are flooding the bookshelves." My editor sent an apology email before it even hit the stands. But then I shared with him some of the Gambit's recent cover story titles: "Writers on the Storm" and "A Flood of Words."

When you live down here, you get used to it after a while.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Two out of three Press Street Men are unemployed

Brad, Ken, Case and Susan
Originally uploaded by kfoz.

Can you guess which of these three lucky guys has a job?

A note to Good Morning America on accuracy in reporting

Yesterday Press Street hosted a party at Preservation Hall to celebrate Tom Piazza's book Why New Orleans Matters. The hall is closed indefinately, not from physical damage, but because there are not enough tourists and, more tragically, the lives of most New Orleans musicians have been destroyed. Many lost their homes, their instruments, and still haven't returned to the city. ReganBooks/HarperCollins made a contribution to the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund in conjunction with the event, and contributions were taken from those attending.

Good Morning America decided to do a story on the event, yet this is what they reported:

"Among Hurricane Katrina's victims was a sacred jazz institution: Preservation Hall.

Preservation Hall was built in 1750 as a private residence. Since then, it has been an inn, a tavern, a photo studio and an art gallery. In 1961, it opened its doors as a jazz hall. Founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe wanted it to be a haven for the music.

It will open this evening, after months of cleaning and rehab work. It's a sign that perhaps the music of the city is coming back to life."

So, let's count the errors: Reopening? No. Damaged by the storm? No. Music coming back? Not really.

They might have taken this opportunity to mention the Musicians Relief Fund (, or to talk about how even as the city slowly recovers, its musicians remain scattered across the country. But they didn't.

Preservation Hall received a calls from around the world from people who were thrilled to know that life in New Orleans has returned to normal. Even the White House called, thrilled, no doubt, at this evidence that New Orleans is doing fine on its own.

The contact info is at this page:

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Could there be even more reasons to drive BellSouth out of business?

Hard to believe, but the answer is yes.

Shortly after the hurricane, I called and paid my balance over the phone. Two weeks ago, still without service, I received a bill for $2.50--the fee for paying a bill over the phone. So I guess I could pay that over the phone too, and get another bill for $2.50.

Then, last week, I received a check for $30--a refund for my final bill. What final bill? I callled Bellsouth, and spent another couple hours on hold, and ...they couldn't explain either thing to me. Meanwhile, they also can't tell me when I might expect service again.

Now, after the city announced plans for a city-wide wireless service (which,incidentally, doesn't seem to work), BellSouth has recinded an offer of an unused building to house police services.

I'm now waiting for Cox to hook up my cable phone and internet services. I hate the cable congomerates, but not as much as I hate BellSouth.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The pain of proofreading

I'm finally proofing the pages for "The Dogs Who Found Me," and as usual I am amazed at the number of errors that have made it into the galleys. Some of these are all my fault. Others are helpful but misguided corrections that have been inserted along the way. For example, I was surprised to read a description of running through orchids in Costa Rica. How does one run through an orchid? Perhaps it was an orchard? On the other hand, perhaps I should insert a scene in which my dog and I, under the influence of opium, run wildly in miniaturized form through a giant orchid.

I recently discovered another error in my Poets and Writers piece on Ernest J. Gaines. In my original draft, I was talking about the population of his stories being made of up "African-Americans, mixed race Creoles and white plantation owners." Somewhere along the line, the s was deleted from African Americans, altering the entire meaning of the sentence, and actually making it false. Instead of expressing the whole range of colors and cultures, the sentence now reads as if everything is literally black and white.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Because before it gets better, it gets really really bad

I just found out--via email, which always makes it easier--that I am no longer employed at NOCCA/Riverfront. For the past few weeks we've been put through various hoops and forms and requests and updates, and this week I was working on the curriculum for the term that would begin in January.

So if anyone knows of any work in the New Orleans I am.

Sweetness on its way to Ohio

Originally uploaded by kfoz.
Yesterday, while I was locked out of my car, the SPCA called to say that the dog I dropped off a few weeks ago would be leaving for a shelter in Ohio this morning. I was tempted to drive over to see her one last time, and to meet the man who was drving her (Bob Painter, thank you!) and tell him how special she is. Bob is a volunteer from Belmont County Animal Rescue, and he's been down here for a while but is finally returning home.

If anyone in or near Ohio is looking for a great dog, please go get her. But keep her inside. She wants to be a house dog, even though she's spent most of her time on the streets.

Chicago proposes a breed ban; I propose a ban of Chicago

A friend in Chicago just let me know about the proposed legislation banning all pit bulls and pit mixes. Anyone who has read my blog in the past knows how I feel about this: it is lazy legislation that doesn't address the problem at all. I had been planning to visit Chicago on my book tour. Now I am considering whether I should skip altogether, or arrive wearing my "I Love My Pit Bull" t-shirt and turn my tour stop into a protest.

The problem with breed bans is that the irresponsible owners will continue behaving irresponsibly. Also, it serves as a lesson in the worst kind of problem solving--look the other way, pretend it doesn't exist. If we applied this logic to all of society's problems the following would be banned: drinking, sex, marriage, education, art....oh, wait, maybe this isn't new thinking at all.

Meanwhile, San Francisco has put legislation in effect that requires pit bull owners to neuter and spay their pets, and to have a permit for breeding. It is impossible to argue with this. But why are pit bull owners the only ones who are expected to breed responsibly? It should be expected of ALL dog owners.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Stump stockings

There are some things you can see only in New Orleans and yet, in New Orleans, they seem utterly commonplace. Particularly now.

I'm sitting on my car bumper waiting for a locksmith to let me after I locked the car with the keys in the ignition on my way to the chiropractor. Coming toward me down the middle of the street: a punked out, afro-ed kid in his twenties pushing a wheelchair with a rainbow flag. In the wheelchair: a fifty year old man one-legged man wearing shorts and, on his stump, a fishnet stocking.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I see London, I see France...I see $*%@ in his underpants

Last month, the culture minister of France came along with a delegation of officials to tour New Orleans and offer their assistance. Part of the package is a huge show of masterpieces from the Louvre and other Paris museums, which will be on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art in late 2006.

That same week, Prince Charles and Camilla toured the lower Ninth Ward and met with residents who were salvaging their ruined homes.

This week, the Netherlands is in town pledging their support and offering their expertise on levees.

The United States government is still mulling their support of city.

Free internet for carpetbaggers

The latest inane announcement from Mayor Nagin (fresh from his Jamaican vacation) is free wireless internet throughout the city. But, in fact, the plan currently is only for two areas: the French Quarter and the CBD, both of which are wealthy demographically and currently housing out of town "relief" workers. They may eventually extend the service beyond those areas, but then the connection speed will drop to 128 kps, which is dial up speed circa 1995. So those of us that live in areas outside the business district, where phone service is still unavailable, are out of luck. But the folks who already had internet access can now get it for free.

When I posted something online about how it was essentially "free for the rich" I got a nasty response from someone who told me I was being nasty and irresponsible. They added that they "worked hard for two years" to pay for their condo. If you can pay for a condo in two are rich. And, of course, the point I was making is that this free wireless service isn't really being provided for citizens at all. It is for the out of towners, and once they live, the power will be turned down.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Does the State Department read your blog?

They certainly read mine. I was looking at the stats on recent locations that had been accessing my blog. Usually these are listed as cities, or servers (like AOL). But there was someone reading from website which doesn't exist because, apparently, it is a State Department server in DC.

What could I possibly be saying that is of interest to them? Pit bulls? Giraffes? Utility monopolies?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Giraffes are funny

My friend the Giraffe
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
Until yesterday, I don't think I had ever gotten quite this close to one of these funny things.

I mean, look at that!

The Audubon Zoo reopened this weekend and was packed. Almost all of the animals survived the storm, even the really tall ones.

Reopening Preservation Hall

Preservation Hall
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
Press Street, the literary and visual arts collective that I recented founded with friends in the Bywater, wanted to do something to celebrate Tom Piazza's new book "Why New Orleans Matters." Actually, one of our main goals is to just actually DO things. But also, to do things a little differently. So rather than doing a regular reading for this book, we wanted to come up with something that would sum up the whole experience of New Orleans.

How about Preservation Hall? I said, not really thinking that we would be able to do something there. And, in fact, the Hall has been closed since the storm, with musicians all out of town and touring. But with the help of ReaganBooks/HarperCollins, we will be hosting a "one time only" opening of Preservation Hall on Tuesday December 6th from 6-8pm. A quartet will perform, books will be signed, and it is all free and open to the public.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Entergy offers a special holiday blackout

Apparently Entergy made a mistake with their brief 90 minute blackout on Black Friday. Their contracts with the city of New Orleans and Haliburton stipulate that they must do everything in their power to discourage people from returning to communities east of the French Quarter. So last night, as soon as it began to rain, the power went out again. Fourteen hours later, it is still out. The official recorded message after reporting the outage is the same as on Friday: "We expect power to be restored Saturday December 3rd." When I got a live person on the phone, I asked about that message. "It hasn't been changed since the storm," she said. Which storm? "Katrina."

What should I do with all the food rotting in the fridge? "I can't help you with that," she said.

I was thinking of dropping it off at the nearest Entergy office. "Okay," she said.

The worst part is this: I missed the Animal Planet special on reuniting people with their pets, and an entire evening of work on my book.

Homeless cat offers accounting services to the Louisiana SPCA

Originally uploaded by kfoz.
This incredibly skinny cat has been hanging out in the accounting room waiting for her owners to pick her up. They were contacted on Tuesday and told that the cat was there. They said they'd be in that afternoon. Wednesday she was still there, and happily putting her paws all over the contributions as they came in. Then she did something stinky.

I left after lunch, so I'm hoping she had a happy Thanksgiving with the folks. Her name, apparently, is Misha. And she does bare a striking resemblance to Misha Barton.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Brando discovers a magic potion

Mr. Brando Foster
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
The other day at the Louisiana SPCA, a volunteer from California gave me of an herbal stress relieving potion that she developed for Hurricane animals. I'd been telling her about Brando's separation anxiety, which has been through the roof lately. I've used Bach essences off and on in the past, but lately nothing was working. Brando refuses to get in the crate. Brando cries like a baby when I leave the house. Brando is still crying and can be heard from my car when I return. It is not good.

Yet this stuff really works. He refuses to enter the crate--I mist the air above him and he goes in.

He begins whining at my departure...a little spritz and he's fine!

If anyone else is desperate out there, you may want to give it a try: Black Wing Farms is the name of the company. And they can be reached at

Another day, another blackout...

New Orleans managed to get through Thanksgiving without a blackout, but this morning's paper finally covers the ongoing problems the eastern occupied half of the city has been having. Baty Landis, the owner of the cafe I frequent for internet access, is quoted in the piece talking about how the frustration of being unable to do business several days a week has led her to buy a generator--and consider leaving town.

Yet this morning, at precisely 7 am, we had another blackout. I called Entergy ("the city's power monopoly" per today's paper) and got a recording: "The power outage is due to a storm. Crews are working to resolve the situation. We expect service to be restored by Saturday December 3rd."

HUH? First of all, there has been no storm. There hasn't even been a breeze. Second, how could they be working on it when it had literally just occurred? And why would it take eight days to fix???

The power was back on 90 minutes later, thus preserving everyone's turkey leftovers.

Bellsouth, on the other hand, has given me total BS regarding getting my service back. There isn't a problem with the lines--they just want to replace them. Meanwhile, they have told me I will have service in a) November, b) late February, c) November 25, and d) never.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Lingering on the borders of CNN and NPR

I've been opening mail for the past week at the Lousiana SPCA--where everyone should make a contribution for Christmas--and CNN has been there for the past few days, filing a special report that will air at some point on Monday night. There's a chance I'll be seen manning the letter opener amid stacks of envelopes. Or I may possibly be shown reading a letter aloud from five teachers who decided to contribute instead of exchanging gifts this year. They sent $100 each.

While I was opening mail, NPR's Talk of the Nation featured the editors of The Bark, talking about the new issue, which features an amazing section of Katrina stories that Julia Lane put together. My story of leaving with my dogs is just one small part of it. When I finally got a copy of the issue I was overwhelmed by all of the other stories--and how well the section represents all of New Orleans. Unlike most of the other coverage around.

The other thing I love about The Bark issue is the cover--an amazingly gorgeous pit bull named Sally.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The view from Windsor Court

Camp Street
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
I took this picture back in October when I first returned to town. This is a building on Camp Street, across from the W hotel and the Windsor Court. Scenes like this were--and are--fairly common among the otherwise normal "functioning" sections of town.

This little lady needs a home.

Originally uploaded by kfoz.
This girl dog was living on the streets after the hurricane. A few days after I got back she managed to create a small pack to hang out with. Then they all disappeared. About ten days ago she came back to the hood, with a new collar and much friendlier. But in heat.

She's currently being housed with other dogs in large heated tent at the Lousiana SPCA. But they are transfering all adoptable dogs out after the five day waiting period. I'm looking for anyone--a shelter, foster or organization--who might take her in. I've never pulled a stray off the street without making sure she found a home. So I'm nervous about this little one I"ve been watching so long just getting on a bus and heading out of town.

Aside from being friendly, she's also very small. A rottie/corgi or something. If anyone can help...please let me know!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Entergy's definition of "restored"

Entergy, the bankrupt electric company that is currently sitting on their thumbs in New Orleans, claims to have restored power to the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods that run east of the French Quarter, along the river. Yet last night we had another lengthy blackout--the fifth in nineteen days. Although I haven't seen any public explaination or acknowledgement of the problems, it is fairly predictable. The power will go out:
1. Every Tuesday night.
2. Every time it rains.
3. Every time the wind blows.

And yet they claim the service has been "restored." And they refuse to pay for extra crews to help with repairs. And, when I called to ask for an explaination or refund today, I was told "Well it is because of the hurricane." Which would seem to suggest that...they haven't yet restored anything at all, and their claims to have restored service to some areas are actually, completely, false. I was about to introduce this concept with the rep on the phone, but then my cell phone went dead--because I haven't been able to charge it.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Abandoning Manhattan

There's a lot of talk today--including on tonight's 60 Minutes--about how the country can't afford to support New Orleans and the city should be abandoned. It is an argument that could be made about a number of US cities: Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami. But most of all it can be made regarding Manhattan. Imagine the money that could be saved and the economic bump other cities would receive if only we shut down Manhattan and forced relocation on all of its citizens and businesses!

Some other points to consider:

1. Manhattan is an island, which makes mandatory evacuation impossible. This is compounded by the fact that many of the citizens mysteriously do not own cars and depend on public transportation.

2. With its dense population, thousands of people will die and even more will become homeless after the next, inevitable terrorist attack.

3. When the original settlers chose the small Manhattan island, they had no plan for the future growth of the city. Via highrises and boroughs, Manhattan has overgrown its natural boundaries.

4. The ongoing cost--in cash as well as various taxbreaks--of protecting Manhattan should not be placed on the burden of taxpayers. This is money that would be better spent elsewhere.

5. The inflated cost of living in Manhattan trickles down to consumers across the nation. Imagine how much more affordable clothes would be if the fashion industry were relocated to Iowa!!

Of course, these points are idiotic. Yet they are pretty much the points being made by some Boston professor desperate for some attention. Imagine saying the same things about...Africa. Yet the main difference between New Orleans and other cities is this: it is Southern, it is mostly African American, and itis demographically poor. So lets dismantle Manhattan first. There must be a fair way to divide up its resources and spread them across the country--and in the end we'll all be stronger because of it.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Carpetblogger wreaks havoc on dog tummy!

Brando has colitis and I blame Case, aka

Not only did that carpetbagger/blogger squat in our living room, he made no effort to engage the dogs while he was here. And he paces! Then he moved three blocks away and Brando had his latest breakdown. The physical manifestation was some really bloody poop, which I subsequently dropped off at the vet in a nice tupperware container. The diagnosis: colitis caused by stress.

So this morning I tried to pamper the Brando a bit more than I have lately, and I took him for a walk and then a frolic in the park with Dixie, a catahoula pit bull from the French Quarter.

Yesterday we found a female dog in heat--an adorable rottweiler/corgi, if you can imagine. While I wrangled Brando back into the house, the Carpetblogger came by and sat on the stoop with the little bitch in heat, and the combination of the two of them was, I am certain, the final straw for my Brando.

Meanwhile, I've delivered the girl dog to the SPCA,where I've been volunteering opening envelopes and filling out deposit tickets for the many contributions that are coming in after the Humane Society of the United States sent out a mailing on the Lousiana SPCA's behalf. What a nice example of how animal groups can/could work together.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Faulkner House is open

Faulkner House, the great little bookstore in the French Quarter, is open again. I stopped in yesterday and on my way back up Royal Street I stopped in a few other places, talking to gallery owners who said they weren't selling anything but figured that someone had to be the first back. One owner lost her house and is living with her ex-husband again. "At least when the FEMA trailer arrives I'll have a place to go if we start fighting again," she said.

But many other places where still closed, and others had already vacated, including The Living Room, which used to me my favorite stop back when the owner still kept couches and dogs along one side of the room. Three Dog Bakery is also shuttered--literally--and there was an eviction notice posted on the door. I haven't shared this information with my dogs. But I did send an email to the corporate office suggesting that they might want to keep the store open and help out the local franchise to show support for the city. They are, after all, selling Katrina shirts on their website.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More NOCCA/Riverfront trouble

According to a few reports I received today, the legislature quietly voted to increase the cuts to NOCCA/Riverfront by an additional 850,000 dollars, bringing the total cuts to nearly 1.6 million, leaving very little left for faculty salaries or supplies for students, let alone concerts and other programming. Meanwhile, the morning paper reported funds being diverted to a school for the deaf from a closed New Orleans art school. I'm all for funding a school for the deaf, but I'm a little surprised to learn that my school is "closed."

Many, many families have been waiting to hear news of NOCCA/Riverfront reopening before they make their decision to return to the city. And the state seems to be content to close the school and give them--as well as the many residents who enjoyed attending events there--one more reason to abandon the city.

and now I've lost my bank too

...which may not be a problem since I seem on the verge of losing my job.

I made a point of putting all my money in Hibernia, because it is a New Orleans based regional bank. No more. Beginning in the New Year, it will become Capital One Bank. The notoriously awful credit card company has taken over. Capital One made its fortune and name by offering high interest credit cards--$40 annual fees for $300 credit at 23%. So I'll be withdrawing all of my money and transfering to another bank.

Of course, even if Hibernia remained independent I'd be stuck. The branch nearest to my house is the one remaining building on a block that burned down and the branch that I opened the account at lies on the border of the lower Ninth and St. Bernard Parish. I doubt Capital One will be opening either of them anytime soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

New work out in The Bark and Poets and Writers

Every now and then I am reminded that in spite of everything, I'm still a writer.

My profile of Ernest Gaines is out in the November/December issue of Poets and Writers magazine, and it includes a really embarrassing copyeditor's typo in the opening pages. I'll be posting more about that later, just because it is a little embarrassing and therefore amusing. But mostly embarrassing.

And the new issue of the Bark has a short essay about the evacuation, and the dog I left at the LA SPCA in the days before the storm. Some of you have already heard about that, but they've also included a gorgeous photo my Zephyr, taken by Cami Johnson. Brando, Sula and I can be seen in various degrees of blur behind Zephyr as she hunts in a New Orleans garden.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Elvis comes to Piety Street

Elvis Costello is coming to record in the studio at the end of my block starting next week. Joe Henry is producing, and it will be a collaboration with Allan Toussaint. If only the Po Boy shop would open up across the street I'd have the perfect venue for stalking them.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A note from the Lousiana SPCA

Hello all,

I haven't spent time engaging in dialogue via email or responding to the internet rumors as I’d be spending my entire day doing so.  But, I wanted to respond to the message below.  Please feel free to forward onto your lists.

In an effort to get closer to the truth amidst the rumors and conflicting reports, we have developed a multi-agency assessment team that will be fanning four New Orleans hot spots --  Lower 9th, East New Orleans, Lakeview, and Gentilly – to systematically evaluate at our animal situation.  We’re working two shifts (6 am - 9 am and 5 pm – 8 pm) as animals are most active at dawn and dusk.  We’ll tally our results on Thursday and determine next steps.

It’s my hope to a) obtain a better understanding of the state-of animals in New Orleans by using a systematic approach, and b) to tailor future animal response efforts to match the needs of the community.  The team includes two members each from HSUS, ASPCA, Best Friends, United Animal Nations, LA/SPCA, and individuals who have been working at independent rescue sites (Richard from Winn Dixie, for example).

We hope that this assessment will offer greater clarity about our true situation (NOTE: The LA/SPCA is only focused on New Orleans and is not working in the other parishes such as St. Bernard, Plaquemines, etc.).

I’ve never been one for perpetuating myths or histrionics.  If Jane Garrison or others have specific information about animals in need, I’ve asked them to call us at 368-5191, ext 100.  Sadly, we were forwarded emails where people entioned “testing” us with false reports to see how fast we’d respond.  Yesterday, one of our visiting teams responded to a call only to find see an “animal rescue” vehicle flee when they approached.  I would hope that would-be rescuers wouldn’t waste valuable resources playing games with animals’ lives.

Thankfully we’ve received a tremendous outpouring from professionals across the country who have sent staff and resources to help us with the overwhelmingly challenging tasks of establishing a semi-permanent shelter, vet clinic, housing staff, capturing strays, reuniting pets & owners, working with the military & cadaver teams, and the daily care of the animals we rescue.  In just the past few weeks, we’ve had staff from HSUS, ASPCA, Missouri, Texas, and Nebraska, San Diego, Pasadena,
helping us every day to make things happen.

I also wish to clarify that the LA/SPCA has not stated that it has everything “under control” but has said that its visiting animal control teams and local residents are not seeing evidence of the thousands of starving animals that Jane writes about.  We're trapping every night and definitely seeing strays, but we're not seeing thousands.  We always need volunteers to work with us to serve the needs of New Orleans’ animal community.  Not everyone, however, wants to work within the system.

Laura Maloney
Executive Director
Louisiana SPCA

The animal rescue craziness continues...

A friend emailed me after receiving an email about how the LA-SPCA is limiting animal rescue efforts and "thousands" of animals are dying in the streets. She wanted to know what was really going on. My response:

Here's my take on what I've had to deal with as a resident and animal rescuer myself:

Upon coming home, piles of dog food and treats knee high on every street corner attracting rats and stray dogs that made it dangerous to leave my home with my own dogs.

"Katrina Animal Rescue" cars driving at high speeds going the wrong way down one way streets in neighborhoods where pedestrians where at risk of being hit if they weren't expecting such careless out of town driving.

Countless instances of homes being broken into even after the the owners had returned with their dogs.  In one case, a police officer's rottweiler was rescued while he was on duty.

Jane Garrison and others have told residents that it is our responsibility to make sure they don't take our animals.  Funny way of thinking.  LIke telling me that it is my responsiblity to make sure I'm not robbed.

Whlie in the dog park one day I turned my back for a second and heard someone whispering to my dog from an open car window.  Who was it?  Katrina Animal Rescue, who then zipped away going the wrong way on my street.

Many of these groups refuse to list their animals online, or particularly refuse to list them through Petfinder or the SCPA.
Graffitti is everywhere.  The majority of it from animal rescuers reporting three or four times, in spray paint sometimes a foot high, that there is no dog in a house.

Many of these volunteers took rescue lists from the SPCA and then selectively rescued only certain dogs on the list, leaving behind others.

I could go on, but my point is that it is out of control, and while many of these groups mean well, or meant well, they are out of control.  It is total chaos, and the end result is that those of us lucky enough to return are having to deal with the chaos they've created.   If they really wanted to help at this point, they'd find a way to work within the system and considering the extreme problems we are facing.  But they won't.

NOCCA on the chopping block

The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts is in danger of being shuttered. Obviously cuts need to be made, however cutting the proposed 67 positions would leave the school without a faculty. This is the high school where numerous Marsalis family members were trained, where Harry Connick Jr. got his start, etc.

This bill, HB 156, is online at the LA legislature site.

"The commissioner of administration is authorized and directed to reduce the State General Fund (Direct) appropriations contained in Act 16 of the 2005
Regular Session of the Legislature for the following agencies in the following amounts:

New Orleans Center for Creative Arts by $2,147,595 and sixty-seven
(67) positions. "

It is scheduled to be heard on November 13, 2005
4:00 pm
Room 5

The legislator presenting the bill is Representative John A. Alario, Jr, chairman of the appropriations committee.  His district office phone numbers are (504)340-2221 and (504)341-0794 (Fax).  His email address, as listed on the legislature's website, is 

I'll be posting more people who can be contacted if you have an opinion on preserving arts training in New Orleans. And you better...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Touring St. Bernard Parish

Yesterday I met with Lola Vollen who is working with McSweeney's on the Voice of Witness series. We hopped into her rental car and I showed her through the Bywater along St. Claude Avenue before we drove over the bridge and across the levee into the lower Ninth. I hadn't really been around there up to this point--I hadn't seen the damage since the storm. As we drove the neighborhoods, I pointed out the floodlines along the buildings and we tried to make sense of the topography as they rose and fell.

As we continued east we found a barracade across the road--built from abandoned cars that had been piled atop each other. Who made it? we asked. Turns out the parish put it up to force people through a check point. We were going through. (Lola had credentials, I was along for the ride.) We turned into a subdivison and found ourselves among a completely barren community--there was mud and swamp grass deposited atop the houses. Through open doors we could see that the entire interior structure of each home had collapsed.

Outside of one house a man stood waiting for his insurance company. Allstate has stood him up four times. It was late in the afternoon, soon it would be dark--very dark without any electricity. The man had a levee board shirt on--"Everyone wants to kill me" he said--and he showed us the spot he had cleared for his FEMA trailer, once it arrives. The inside of his house had been gutted by the water, which stood for two weeks. Then Rita flooded it again. Now we understood the dueling floodlines we'd been seeing. He pointed to the other houses and described the neighborhood, the people that had lived there. Across the street, the backs of all the houses were gone, blown away by the force of the water coming in. "I figure it was twenty feet," he said. "Storm surge" equals tidal wave, although no one ever wants to use that word.

On the way home we spotted another yard filled with debris, including a dozen mounted deer heads, sticking from the ground.

Press Street literary/arts collective

My friends and I are starting a literary and arts collective in the Bywater. Press Street is named after the street that borders the west side of the Bywater, running along the train tracks where the old cotton presses were housed. We plan to publish small specialized books that merge design and prose, and to host a few art shows, and, more important, to offer literacy programs for kids and adults.

But first we are simply hosting a reading--tonight (Thursday November 10 at 7pm) with poet Carolyn Hembree and fiction writer Patty Friedmann. If you are in town, come to Beth's Books, on Port Street at Chartres, adjacant to the Sound Cafe.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sweet Pea, the pit bull/girl next door: a story with three pit bulls and not a drop of violence

I didn't know until we moved in this summer that the junk yard/art space next door had a live-in pit bull named Sweet Pea, and at first I wasn't pleased. Why? Because I don't think any dogs should be left alone to guard a property, without regular interaction and support of some kind. It makes them territorial, no matter what breed they are. In the heat of the New Orleans summer, Sweet Pea spent most of her time sleeping in a metal shed, or occassionally lounging atop of of the dead cars in the yard. Occassionally she would come over and pop her head through the fence and my girl dogs would kiss her while Brando, the male, stood back, ready to pounce.

After the evacuation, Sweet Pea was one of the many living things I was worried about. When I finally heard from my landlord, I asked about her. She was fine, living with the man who had initially rescued her, getting more attention than she ever could have dreamed of. When we came back to town, my dogs and I spotted her and her man walking down the street together, and a week later, she reappeared in the junk yard, but not alone. Now she has a live-in dog boyfriend--one of the thousands left behind during the storm. When they aren't off in a corner together, I see them wrestling playfully among the metal empty car bodies, and occassionally they come over to the fence. My dogs are fascinated that there are two dogs next door who aren't particularly interested in them.

After a while, I broke down and handed some treats through the fence. The next time I saw Sweet Pea on her walk, she ran over and threw herself against me. She has a big squishy body, so it was like being attacked by a stuffed animal. I loved every moment of it. And then she continued on her run.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Another pit bull attack and the press misses the real problem

A ten year old was mauled by three pit bulls in Colorado yesterday and in reading the press accounts of the horrible incident the blame is set squarely on the dogs. Yet, as usual in nearly every case like this, there are odd little details that no one seems to question.

The boy was attacked after climbing over the back fence to break into his family home because the door was locked and no one was home to let him in. CHILDREN SHOULD NOT HAVE TO BREAK INTO THEIR OWN HOMES.

The pit bulls--three of them--were kept loose in the back yard. ANIMALS THAT ARE MEANT TO BE PETS SHOULD NOT BE CONFINED TO THE YARD.

After subdoing the dogs--by shooting at them--officials found puppies as well. PEOPLE WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERS DON'T BREED DOGS IN THEIR YARD.

And then there's this, buried, as usual, at the end of the report: "Two years ago, the same dog owner was cited for keeping too many dogs and allowing them to run free." PEOPLE WITH A TRACK RECORD OF IRRESPONSIBILITY SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO HAVE PETS OF ANY KIND.

The sad thing is that the people responsible here will probably not be prosecuted, but anyone who owns a pit bull resposibly will face fines or relocation.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

More signs that things have returned to normal

I just spent two hours searching for my car in the French Quarter.

Be careful where you point your rocket

Saturday night my power went off. It didn't just go off in a traditional post-catastrophe way. The lights dimmed down to almost nothing, then periodically flashed on like a strobe. It was Halloween weekend. It was New Orleans. And when I looked out the window it seemed that I was the only house on the block that was having any problem. I called the landlord, who was out somewhere and promised to come by, then called back to say that several of his friends where having the same problem--so it wasn't just my house. I tried turning the lights out, but the power buttons on the appliances were still blinking at me, and the sound of the refridgerator surging kept me up most of the night.

On Sunday I discovered the trouble: Someone had launched a confetti rocket outside of Mimi's on Franklin Street, and it lodged itself in a transformer. Maybe things were back to normal after all!

The Dogs Who Found Me Tour

I'm starting to book events for the publication of The Dogs Who Found Me, the memoir/dog rescue book that has taken several unexpected turns--along with my life--on its way to publication. In March, I'll begin touring around to promote the book in bookstores and I hope to include local dog rescue groups in these events, or perhaps even do seperate fundraising events with them. If anyone out there has suggestions or wants to invite me to their town/store/organization, please contact me. So far, here's the plan:

Saturday March 11: Skylight Books, Los Angeles

Sunday March 12-Wednesday March 15: San Francisco Bay Area

Thursday March 16: Powell's on Hawthorne, Portland, OR

Thursday March 23: Shaman Drum, Ann Arbor, MI

April 7-8: Southern Kentucky Book Festival

Also, The Dogs Who Found Me has received the following quote:

"Generosity and gratitude power this compelling account of the reciprocal nature of rescue.  Ken Foster illuminates a profound lesson about saving a life:  Doing it makes you able to do it."—Amy Hempel

Sunday, October 30, 2005


One of the reasons people were discouraged from returning to New Orleans was the question of what medical facilities would be open, and when. This concern also led to the Uptown neighbhorhoods being among the first to have power restored. I wasn't too concerned with any of this until last night, when a newly lowered tree branch poked me in the eye while I was playing in the yard with the dogs. I decided to make the best of it and go to sleep early, hoping it would be fine in the morning. Of course it was worse. And just to make the night more insane, the electricity went nuts and my lights were flashing on and off all night long. Even when I shut the ceiling lights, all of the appliance power lights kept flashing like christmas lights...or a poltergeist. At that point, with no lights and only one eye, I was beginning to feel a bit panicked.

So this morning some friends drove me up to Touro, where I was one of three patients in the ER. There was one doctor on duty, and a few assistants. They diagnosed me quickly, but it took an hour to find someone who could bring the ointment from the pharmacy. On the way home we stopped at a costume shop where I purchased an eye patch and a plastic hook hand. I'm now set for Halloween.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Marigny Vet makes a house call

First Sula ate her leash. Then two days ago Brando bit her on the ass and left puncture wounds at the base of her tail. It was time to call a vet. But most vets don't even have working phones. Fortunately the Marigny Vet is making discounted house calls while their clinic is readied for business again. They arrived at our house yesterday morning at 11 and treated each of the dogs in the backyard. Poor Sula had to have her ass shaved and get a shot of antibiotics. Brando just needed a quick physical exam before he renewed his anxiety meds. But Brando hates vets, so I gave him a xanax and a muzzle. He still ran to the back of the yard and refused to participate. Finally, he let me hold him while the vet listened to his heart and felt his liver. All was fine. And, for a moment, the world was filled with entirely normal concerns. If you can call my dogs normal...

The evictions begin

I was walking Sula down Royal Street today and we met a couple standing outside their house--a house I immediately remembered from a walk earlier in the week, when a crew of out of town laborers were throwing every possession out onto the street. This was a day BEFORE the official eviction day, and the amount of stuff they were throwing onto the pavement made me think that it was likely a house people were planning to return to. Now I was standing with these tenants who had just minutes earlier arrived home ready to rebuild their lives and the city itself. There were only a few damaged books and some trash remaining.

They told me that they had left a note for their landlord, who had never returned their calls before the storm, so they had barracaded the windows and doors on their own. While I was with them, they tried calling the man--he immediately hung up the phone on them.

Like many people they had been waiting for basic things like utilities to be confirmed before they returned to live here again. Now they are calling on friends to see if anyone can offer a place to stay.

Meanwhile, the half a double across the street from me is available. Two weeks ago it was renting for $900. Last week they raised it to $2000. There have been no takers, so its down to $1500 today.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Neville hug

Almost twenty years ago, on my first visit to New Orleans, I saw Charmaine Neville perform as the opening act for her brothers at a club in Riverwalk that no longer exists. I often thought of going to see her again, but since she had a regular gig at Snug Harbor it was one of those things that I always put off. Next week, next month, another time...

Last night, after the awful Marigny/Bywater meeting, I caught the end of Charmaine's return gig at Snug Harbor. The crowd was rather small, particularly considering there was no cover. But the band and Charmaine were great--completely up beat and talking only of New Orleans's future, not the past.

After the show I wanted to tell her how I'd seen her perform all those years ago, before I had ever lived here, and how great it was to see her again, now. But before I got the chance she grabbed me and gave me a big hug.

"Thanks for coming back," I said.

"Oh," she said, shaking her head, "you can't keep me out of here!!"

Night Court

Last night there was another Bywater/Marigny community meeting with Jackie Clarkson and reps from the police force, the utilities, and Army Corps of Engineers, etc. While last week there were 60 in attendance, last night about five hundred showed up--and it was another embarrassing display of narcissism on the part of the community. While the local officials tried to explain how extensive the damage is to the infrastructure of the city and how the individual neighborhoods are connected to each other and what work needs to be done to safely restore service, angry "concerned" residents stood on chairs shrieking obscenities and crying like babies about their own situation--which was no different than any others. For about 90 minutes they made it nearly impossible for any information to be shared, and then one by one, having gotten the negative attention they were seeking, they stormed out of the meeting. No one had anything to offer. No one volunteered to help. One of the few suggestions to come from the crowd was that all garbage could be dumped in the "empty lot" between Piety and Desire--the park in my neighborhood. I objected, of course.

Worst of all was Harry Anderson of the old sitcom "Night Court." Harry has been running community meetings in the French Quarter, and came to the Marigny to accuse Clarkson of never showing up. He interupted the police to shout at her. She explained that the one time she had been invited to his meeting she was already booked for another meeting. She had asked him to give her a date in advance. He never did. At that Harry and his blond assistant stormed out, proving once again that it really is all about HIM. And we should never forget that.

Later, at Mimi's, I overheard one of the most obnoxious woman at the meeting telling a delusional story about how the crowd had applauded her when she left the meeting. The truth is that by that time no one was even paying attention.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Neville returns...but still no butter

I spent most of the past four days standing in line at the only Walgreens open on the East bank. I was trying to refill my dog's prescription for separation anxiety medication, and first there was a long line, then when I returned and stood in the endless pickup line I discovered it hadn't been filled. So each day I went in the morning then returned in the afternoon. Finally I left on Friday...but with just six out of 28 capsules. Then I had to go back into the line and have it corrected. Etc. Today it was finally filled, but filed under "D" for dog, so it took a while for them to find it. Seriously.."D" for dog.

But this is typical of the odd inconveniences that we have to put up with in the "new" New Orleans. Another is that the grocery store is well stocked but without a single stick of butter. Why? No one knows.

This morning on Frenchmen Street I heard that a number of legendary establishments are struggling to hang on while the utility companies drag their feet with the gas lines. No one has a straight answer on when service will be reestablished, which means that even the restaurants that would like to open can't cook anything--unless they covert everything to electric. So the master plan continues--a slow death for all New Orleans culture that wasn't washed away in the storm. Or so it seems. I was feeling a little depressed by it all, but then I spotted a sign at Snug Harbor announcing that Charmaine Neville will be performing two free shows on Monday night.

Meanwhile, Sula ate three feet of leash the other night, right next to me in bed as I slept. She seemed fine though. Elated in fact. Then last night, around 4am, she started throwing it all up. A few small squares of nylon came up and out onto the floor, then another piece with a long thread leading down her throat. I tugged at it gently, hoping it would come freely. But it wouldn't. If I pulled too hard, it might pull up her intestines too. Yet she couldn't swallow it again either. We both began to panic. Finally I got a knife and sawed through the thread while she held her mouth open. Yes, this may be the most disgusting thing I've ever written on this blog. She rested for a while. Then threw up another length of leash. Hopefully that's the last of it. UGH.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Report from Cafe du Monde

The place was packed this morning, with cameras and reporters covering the scene from all angles. I met my boss/neighbor Anne Gisleson and her husband Brad there, and we had a couple of plates of beighnets and coffee. The price has gone up about 30 cents an order, but all else is unchanged.

Jackie Clarkson came by, and after Anne introduced me I made the mistake of saying "I was at that meeting the other night..."

To which she replied, after a bit of a pause, "That was nasty."

Doughnuts of all kinds

There is no internet service in New Orleans, so I've been dashing in and out of cafes all day to use the cable wireless signal that some of them managed to retain. (Currently I'm sitting outside a closed bicycle shop on Frenchmen, using their signal. Across the street is the building that used to be the Spotted Cat, but is no more.)

Last night, after my last stop at Sound Cafe on Chartres, I hopped into my car and discovered that one of the brand new front tires was completely flat. The spare was rusted to the bottom of the car, so I walked down to NOCCA, where the National Gurad is stationed. They were great...pulled the car into the compound. (They continually referred to my van as "the rig") and changed the tire for me and searched for clues as to what happened. So now I've got a little doughnut wheel on the front left side.

Meanwhile, this morning Cafe du Monde opens its doors for the first time. So I'm going to load up on some beighnets and head to the nearest Firestone branch since the tire is only a week old.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Is this the upper or the lower?

People are driving like maniacs around town--because there are no traffic cops, few stop lights and seemingly little traffic. And, most of the jerks driving are from out of state driving brand new cars that don't even have licences--so there's no way to report them. One way streets are two way now, apparently. It is driving me nuts.

On St. Claude this morning I was nearly run off the road by a white pick up going 80 miles an hour. I followed it as best as I could, across the canal into Arabi, where they were welcomed at an official check point.

Later in the morning, an SUV of suburban housewives stopped in front of my house--going the wrong way-- and asked "Is this upper or lower?" What they meant was is this upper or lower 9th Ward. I pretended I had no idea what they were talking about and then told them the lower was across the canal. "And this is a one way street going the other way," I said. They were obviously looking for some good destruction and my area wasn't good enough. They were followed by a sheriff's car with out of town cops inside. "What's the deal with people driving where ever they want to?" I asked. "We'll get them," they said.

Good to know they're cracking down on housewives.

Monday, October 17, 2005

...and still it is good to be home.

I just got out of a Marigny association meeting with Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson (aka the mother of actress Patricia Clarkson). The place was packed with residents of the neighborhood, many of whom were out for Jackie's blood. "If you have a problem with it, elect someone else," she said several times during her talk, in which she detailed the work she's been doing the past two months and why some neighborhoods are recovering faster than others. A lot of it, of course, is just plan luck. And another part of it is just the total chaos and staff shortages that have followed. City Hall had no phone or email access until two weeks ago, when one of her staff was finally able to retreive 1400 emails that people believed she had ignored.

Finally, after 30 minutes of minor complaints, a woman stood up and screamed: "I'm so embarrassed, after all that has happened, that my neighbors are sitting here complaining that they don't have cable service restored!"

Much applause followed.

Yet, for those of you who might not have a sense of what it is like to live here:
There is no garbage collection.
Bellsouth estimates that phone and internet will be restored by the end of the year.
There is no gas--and Entergy is asking for residents to pay for their own gas line inspections and certifications, even when there is no sense of when it might actually be restored.

The biggest jawdropper was this: Next week the Red Cross will open its first two service centers in the city. And this is only after two months of begging.

And yet, the weather is gorgeous, the people are great, and I have absolutely no regrets about returning.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Watching houses burn in the distance

Last night was the post-poned birthday party at Andy's place in the French Quarter. There were forty or fifty people there and tons of amazing food, including the lamb. Around ten o'clock everyone gathered at the window and watched an enormous plume of smoke grow in the distance. Then there were flames and an enormous explosion. Then the guessing at what it might be. After a while there seemed to be very little point in trying to decide what it was, and the party continued.

This is the way things are here. Slow motion.

In the Quarter places are beggging for bartenders and cooks. All of the smaller places are opening up with limited menus, and they are packed with people. But when you walk outside the streets are empty. The larger restaurants, owned by people who could afford to open and lose some money in the process, remain stubbornly closed.

Occassionally in the cafes the military stand patiently in line with their machine guns.

And one the way home from the party, as we walked down the stairs, a woman paused on the landing and pointed through a window to the roof, where a dozen violins were laid out to dry.

Friday, October 14, 2005

500 Violins

Somewhere in Kenner there is a pile of 500 moldy violins. I know little more than this. My friends left early today to pick up the violins and the lamb. Of course, the violins will be unplayable. But we aren't musicians anyway.

Rosalind and her lady are together again...

This morning I took Zephyr to the park and ran into Rosalind and her owner, who was shocked and embarrassed to learn that Roz had been sneaking off the porch and pretending to be a street dog. She had received the call I made, but the dog showed up immediately afterward, so she assumed it was an isolated incident. Until this week, they had been staying on 20 acres in Texas.

I'm still not going to describe the horror of my kitchen. But I will say that I went to pick up my mail yesterday. They have temporary post offices set up beside the Superdome, and after waiting in line forever and talking with the rest of the people in line...I got one letter, postmarked August 27th.

I also went to the Sav A Center on Tchoup--it was open, fully stocked, as if nothing had ever happened. The one thing they are lacking is employees.

Some of my favorite places in the Marigny are getting ready to open: Cafe Rose Nicaud, the Brasserie, etc. And in the Quarter, Cafe Du Monde is opening next Wednesday.

Tomorrow night Andy Young is hosting the party that was supposed to be for both of our birthdays back on September 2nd. This afternoon we're driving out to Kenner to pick up the lamb. If you're in town...come on over!

And if you are among the many people wondering if it is time to come back...get your asses on the road and come home!!!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rosalind is living on the street now...and other first impressions on my return

Reentry to New Orleans must be a little like the shock of passing through the atmosphere after visiting the moon. You want to get home, but you've forgotten how difficult and improbable your journey has already been.

I drove in from Tallahassee, stocked up with all kinds of supplies: water, dog food, human food that doesn't require refridgeration, a Coleman stove, propane, clothes, a respirator, Vicks vapor rub (to cut the smell of spoiled food), garbage bags, bleach...

The drive went smoothly until Oak Harbor, just before the long stretch of highway that goes over the lake. There I had to turn and drive through an expensive subdivision/development until I reached route 11 which took me over the water and past completely demolished homes. Large piles of sticks is what they are now. And at first I could figure out where they had come from. The newer places were intact, though with damaged roofs. Then I noticed the empty stilts sticking up from the water. Oh, that's where the houses were. Not anymore.

Back on the highway there were occassional boats still stranded in the median.

Then we drove down Elysian Fields, watching the flood line go lower and lower until we reached our neighborhood and there was none.

My house was sealed with a piece of corregated metal screwed into the doors, decorated with the date that my home had been checked for survivors. I think it will hang now on one of the interior walls. There was a rat party while I was gone. Lots of rat poop all over. But the electricity was on. The Directv was on. There is a hole in the back of the house, and the boards are loose on one side of the front, as if it was hit by something--a runaway bus, perhaps? The kitchen...I don't even want to got into that detail yet.

The dogs were thrilled to be home, but curious about the absence of any other people. We walked around and visited friends. We went to the barren dog park. We smelled a curiously familiar smell: fuel mixed with incinerated cement. It smells like 9/11 in NYC, but without all the burned bodies.

A government SUV stopped outside the house and for a moment I thought it might be FEMA arriving to finally finish the application process they've been sitting on. No. It was a DEA guy and all he wanted was a picture of a door across the street, decorated in the style of the offical rescue code, but reading "2 cats, 1 drag queen".

Later in the afternoon, I walked down the neighborhood bar and found Rosalind, a sweet dog that I had met once before hurricane. At that time she had been left with dogsitters who were letting her run free all the time. Now she's completely on her own. She was timid, and rooting through junk. (Oddly, this is very much like the final scene of my unpublished novel!). Finally she came to me, and I found her owner's number on the collar. I called and got a voice mail about how much they miss New Orleans. I left a message asking if they were missing their dog. I'm still waiting for a response. I tried to get her to come home with me...but she ran off and I haven't seen her since.

Who names a dog Rosalind and then leaves her on the street? I'm tempted to post the number here...

Monday, October 10, 2005

My return to New Orleans

There will be a lull in posts here while I return to New Orleans.

I'm packing up the dogs along with a surplus of dog food, water, a Coleman stove, propane, dry foods, shelf milk, a respirator, Vick's vapor rub (to cut the smell of rotten food), lots of bleach and lysol...and we're heading home.

This is what I know: the house is still standing, and it didn't flood. But I have no idea about any other damage. Some neighbors down the street found that their carpets had been soaked from rain blowing under the door. The mold was so bad that they can't move back in yet. Others have found roof damage, water and mold, even though the structure looks sound from the outside.

There is electricity on my street, I've been told. And the water is supposedly safe, but I've been told by a number of people to not drink it. Ever.

Other friends have told me that going back makes you realize how skewed your sense of awful has become. "At first it doesn't seem nearly as bad as you thought it would be. Then you realize that it is worse."

In addition to assessing my own situation, I'll be heading over to Algiers to help out with the SPCA there. They've rented a warehouse to bring all the animals back--financed by the ASPCA and one other organization. Meanwhile, there continues to be a problem with rogue animal groups breaking into houses to take--I mean rescue--pets. Last week they stole a police officer's dog while he was on duty; a few days later they broke into a family's home as they were sitting down to dinner. During the frantic weeks after the storm, many of these groups took animals lists from the SPCA but never completed the rescue.

But...we're going home. For now anyway. I'll let you know what I find.


Friday, October 07, 2005

FEMA continues to toy with me...

and thousands of other more desperate people.

Yesterday I talked to a supervisor and faxed in a bunch of forms and various proofs of residence. The idea was to get a decision on rental assistance, which had been listed as pending. Now it isn't even listed as an option at all.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

FEMA speaks

This morning I actually got a supervisor on the phone. Here's what he had to say that might be useful to others who haven't been lucky enough to get any answers:

1. You do not need to apply to SBA if all you want is rental assistance. The SBA info is used if you are asking for money to cover property losses.  If you plan to claim any losses, you HAVE to apply with SBA first, and if you get turned down,then FEMA steps in.

2. If you want rental assistance, you need to fax in the Declaration and Release on the last page of the guide book "Help After a Disaster". Include a copy of a lease or other proof of occupancy.

I've been on the phone with these people for weeks and never was told either of these things. I was told, alternately, that they were waiting for an inspection, that they had waived the inspection, that I needed to apply to SBA, that I needed to drive 180 miles away, that it was automatic, that it was automated, that they needed no other information from me, blah blah blah...

On the other hand, I also noticed that the form they used for my case expired on February 28, 2003. Has it really been that long since Katrina hit? It certainly feels like it.

Write a novel in twelve weeks!

Well, not a complete novel.

Beginning at the end of October I'll be teaching a novel writing class online for Mediabistro. Online teaching is perfect for homeless transient refugees like me.

The goal is to have a novel sketched out at the end of twelve weeks. There will be some lessons along the way, but I think the value of a class like this is goal setting: character sketches, outlines and several workshopped chapters will be complete by the end of the session.

And, I did write my memoir this summer in ten weeks, so it can work!

You can sign up here here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

FEMA: "We don't make decisions...a computer does"

I just got off the phone with another rude, possibly even irate FEMA rep, who told me that my property would have to be inspected before they awarded me any rental assistance. But, she said, they are behind in their inspections. When I asked where I should live in the meantime, she had no answer. When I told her that last week I was told it didn't need inspection because I was in the worst hit zip code, she didn't have anything to say. When I told her that other people in my neighborhood have already received money, she said, "Well, we don't make the decisions. I mean, no human is involved. It's a computer generated award." How does that work? "If you answer the questions a certain way, it gives you the money." I said, "I guess I answered a question wrong." No reply.

So if everything is done by computer, why does this woman even have a job?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Lugo and Milo

Lugo and Milo
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
Here's a nice little break from my Katrina coverage. Which of these guys has the cuter smile? Lugo, on the left, or Milo, on the right?

Lugo is our old neighbor from NYC and Brando's old BFF. Lugo was fished out of the East River when he was a puppy. He's also featured in an essay in Dog Culture. The day before left NYC to move to Florida, Brando went to visit Lugo and leapt back and forth over top of him like an acrobat. Lugo let Brando get away with that kind of thing. Milo was just a baby then, and Brando used to slip his socks off and suck on them when no one was watching. That was funny--the first time.

Why are both these young men smiling? Because they know the person behind the camera loves them.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

My afternoon with the Red Cross, FEMA and a displaced pit bull

After spending the night talking to FEMA reps who couldn't access their computers, I decided to call the wrong FEMA number again and ask if there was any way to talk to someone about my application. "I don't know," was the answer again. They suggested I go the Red Cross, so later today I drove over with some clothes people had given me that didn't quite fit. I figured I could find someone else who needed them.

Outside on the steps was a young couple with a sweet pit bull. They were from Texas, and their seven week old baby and two more pits were staying with grandma. Inside I asked the main desk about leaving clothes. "Take them to Good Will," they said. "Isn't there a way that I could just give them away?" I asked, instead of having Good Will sell them. They stared at me as if I was insane.

I said I had a FEMA question, and they told me that they had FEMA reps there. I actually felt a bit elated. I could actually talk to someone face to face, I wouldn't get disconnected or hung up on. Then I asked the woman behind the desk full of pamphlets if there was any way of knowing when I might get the housing assitance they have been promoting. "You could try calling," she said. I told her I had and that they told me to come here. "You can go on the internet," she said. I told her I had tried that too. "I don't know," she said. I realized that she was really just a woman wearing a FEMA shirt, distributing brochures about mold. "Isn't there some way a person could tell me if my file is complete, or when I can actually pay my rent?" "We recommend you do it one month at a time," she said. "So that's your answer?" I asked. Then she teased me again, telling me that I could go to a "disaster center" where they would be able to access my file and tell me what the status was. Great I thought, and asked her to write down the address. It was 180 miles away...

My fortune

I ate some really bad Chinese food when I got to Tallahassee a few weeks ago and this was the fortune at the end of the meal:

"Keep on charging the enemy so long as there is life."

My night with FEMA

Since my landlord expects me to pay rent on my New Orleans house, and I'll soon have to find another place to live while waiting to return to New Orleans, I decided to contact FEMA to find out why I haven't received the rent money that other people are getting. It would be particularly useful if I'm having to rent two places at once. All week, when I've called during the day, I'm immediately disconnected--call another time they say. Try the middle of the night. So, early this morning, after waking up and not being able to get back to sleep, I decided to call them. The computers are down. They can't tell me anything. Call back in an hour. I call back in an hour. The computers are down. They can't tell me anything. Call back in an hour.

"That's what I was told an hour ago," I say.

"Try in the morning," the woman now tells me.

"That's when they say to call in the middle of the night."

The woman then emitted the sounds of a Charlie Brown adult, and I hung up.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Thousands of New Orleans renters face eviction

The latest surprise for those of us who haven't been able to return home is this: Our landlords want their rent, even though the city won't allow us to occupy our houses and apartments. Why? Because FEMA will use the apartments apparently, for their own workers. And in this way, having already gotten rid of the "undesirable" underclass, the city and federal government can know whittle away at the renting/working class, including artists, musicians and teachers.

I can certainly understand why landlords would want to get rent, but I'm surprised that there isn't any aid available to negotiate this limbo period. FEMA is issuing money to cover relocation expenses. The landlords want that money to come to them, which leaves the hurricane victims--me included--with no money to cover their current living situation. Yet, for most of us, we only have the landlord's word that our homes are habitable and that are things are still there. I called FEMA today and they had no answers, and actually told me I should be grateful they were giving me anything at all. Then I tried the Red Cross, but the only numbers on their website are for people wanting to give money. Then I called FEMA again and they directed me to the Louisiana Recovery Hotline, where I was told "Landlords can do whatever they want." Is that the offical state response? I asked. Yes, said "Hazel". When I asked how I could be expected to give up my apartment when the city won't allow to return to collect our things, she had no answer. "Call the state police" she said, "I think they're letting people in." This, of course, is not true, and the number she gave me is never answered. I called back again and spoke with someone new--"If people are giving out phone numbers as answers to questions, shouldn't they be numbers that actually work?" I asked. This second person was a bit more helpful and told me that in a conversation with a landlord yesterday, she discovered that the landlords can rent to new tenants as long as they store our things--and "if they throw your stuff outside and put a tarp over it, that's considered storage."

Apparently the New New Orleans will consist only of property owners and slumlords--what a great way to attract tourists!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Apparently I'm African American...and other media-inspired epiphanies.

In Mississippi, during and after the storm, there was no electricity and therefore no media reporting what may or may not be going on in New Orleans. At the time it was frustrating, because what reports were filtering down by word of mouth seemed confusing and contradictory. Now, after three weeks of watching the news off and on, I miss those days of innocence. Back then, when people talked about the response of the government and the media being influenced by race, I felt pretty strongly that it wasn't just race--it was more than anything about class. People with money have no sense of what it is like to not have any: how limiting it is and, frankly, how it is possible to be working full time and still living in poverty.

My perception has been altered in recent days. First, by entering the crime forum at, where I encountered a mostly hostile collection of white men concerned about their Corvettes being stolen by...those people. When I posted a few thoughts that didn't fall in line with theirs--suggesting, for example, that not all criminals are black--they immediately assumed I was African American and began hurling insults at me. When I mentioned that I had to borrow money to evacuate, they continued, telling me that I was exactly the kind of person they needed to get rid of. When I identified myself as a school teacher, they told me I was what was wrong with the public school system and that I must have snorted my paycheck. The level of ignorance displayed by these self-identified proper New Orleanians sickened me. It made me not want to go back. Of course, they existed before the storm--I just never encountered them directly, in part because if we had met face to face they would have realized I was white--and therefore, absurdly, withheld the comments and ire they targeted me with onliine. But online, they were able to judge me based on just a few facts: my neighbhorhood and my income. The conclusions they drew show just how unfamiliar they are with their city, and the fact that it is possible to work hard and still have an empty bank account at the end of the week.

But in many ways they are no different than the mainstream media--or perhaps they are the product of it. If you read The New York Times, you will discover neighborhood distinctions that don't actually exist in the real New Orleans: North Bywater, Riverside, etc. only exist on the maps they have drawn to illustrate the points they want to make about flooding and demographics. The truth is that while race, racism and poverty are widespread in the city, none of it is so easily portrayed on a map. In fact, the map of New York City is far more distinct in the lines drawn between rich and poor, black and white.

But most appalling of all was the news today in the Times Picayune, which reports that the widespread rape and murder reported during and after the flood was completely fabricated--by frantic citizens, rapid reporters and, I think, particularly bloggers, some of whom wrote as if they were eyewitnesses to these crimes even as they blogged away from some safe haven. Remember the seven year old girl who was discovered with her throat slashed? Fiction, apparently, as are most of the other deaths reported at the Superdome and the convention center. The gangs of thugs raping and terrorizing children after the lights went out--again, no confirmations at all from anyone who was actually there. In fact, the homicide rate during and after the hurricane was exactly the same as it was before, which is admittedly too high, but still, the theory that packing poor, mostly African American people together inspired rampant crime is a myth that too many people--including me, apparently--were willing to buy.