unitasker blues…

oh my god, i’m SO not good at multitasking. my girlfriend calls me a unitasker – and she’s right. my brain just works that way. when i have something i’m working on, i like finishing it entirely before i move on to the next. and more often than not, i have a hard time switching gears to do something else if the previous thing isn’t done. so i will own it – i’m a unitasker, yep.

this is relevant only to explain just how scattered i feel right now. i think i mentioned in previous posts that i got hired for a temporary job enumerating for the census. (that means i go door to door trying to count/get info on all the folks who didn’t turn in their census form by april 1st.) it pays really well, and i made it through the first week of training last week just fine. (it was kinda boring to have the training manual read verbatim to me, but that’s how the gov’t does it and i was happy to take their $17.50/hr to sit there and listen.) this week has been sort of on-the-job training in the field, as we’ve all been sent out to tackle our first assignments. strangely enough, i’m finding i actually kinda like the work. it’s a little like being a detective sometimes, and since they started me off in my own neighborhood, it’s been nice getting to meet and get to know some of my neighbors. also contrary to my expectations, i’ve learned i’m pretty good at this. i guess my ever-so-brief stint as a paralegal/investigator for the death penalty defense law firm a decade ago taught me a few handy skills after all.

so yeah, i like the census work ok but the hours have slowed down as the week has gone on, because the higher-ups want us all to finish our first assignments completely before giving us any more. quality control, i guess. many of us, including me, have just one or two locations in our assigned areas to complete (can’t find the folks that live there home, keep going back at all hours of the day/evening trying to find them but so far no luck), which ends up meaning that on a day like today, i only get to log in the 10-15 minutes it takes me to knock on each door and have no one answer. i’ll be lucky if i clock in 2 hours of work today, sadly, unless i get lucky later in the day and find them. (that ain’t gonna pay the bills!)

in the absence of census work today, though, i’m finally getting the time to start listening to all the cds that have been piling up on my desk for my music column that was due, of course, several days ago. so far, lots of interesting stuff, including the new kelis album, deluka (which sorta sounds like a uk version of von iva to me), and this really great queer ragtime/vaudeville artist named sabrina chap (who sounds just like ani difranco vocally on several cuts, but her music is more diverse). i hope i can get through the whole stack today and decide what i’ll be featuring, and maybe even start writing.

meanwhile, fae’s son charles is in town for a week visiting – he just arrived yesterday. they are out running errands right now, but, you know, i’m trying to make time to hang out and do stuff with them, too, while he’s here.

and have i mentioned? i have to finish watching about a dozen lesbian/feminist films so i can then sit down and program the film fest for michfest this summer. by the end of may. ugh.

sadly, my crafty life seems a bit on hold at the moment until i get better at managing my work flow and extraneous projects. i did really well at jen’s jazz fest art show, selling lots of t-shirts, several signs and one clock. better than last year, even, which makes me really happy and grateful (thanks again jen!). but it leaves me in a bit of a dilemma, feeling like i don’t really have a very good amount of stock to be heading into the bayou boogaloo on the 22nd-23rd, which is my next and only market i have scheduled before the crippling heat of summer hits us. so i have to find time to strategize about that: make some more clocks and signs, print some more t-shirts, maybe even come up with a new design or two? it’s just one of my biggest opportunities all year to sell a lot of crafty wares, so i’d hate to miss out. but how to find the time?

also, while i’m talking about the bayou boogaloo… some of you will remember that last year the new orleans craft mafia did a wildly successful t-shirt recycling/reconstructing workshop out at the boogaloo. we were mobbed with people excited to learn how to make tote bags, halter tops and skirts out of their old t-shirts, and we got a lot of great press from it, too. plus it was a lot of fun! so how could we not do it again this year? therefore, of course, we are. we’ll be out there selling our eco-friendly and recycled wares, and then also doing two days of free workshops – 12pm-5pm on saturday the 22nd and 1pm-4pm on sunday. we’re looking for volunteers who’d like to help us cut and sew and direct traffic, and we’re also looking for your old t-shirt donations! (now i’m not talking stained and holes-worn-through old t-shirts, but rather stuff you’re not wearing anymore that’s still in nice wearable shape that you’d like to get out of your house and perhaps onto someone else as a skirt or halter or bag!) t-shirt donations can be dropped off early to unique products (2038 magazine street) or whole foods uptown during biz hours or just bring it to the boogaloo – we’ll have a donation box out. spread the word!

so see – what’s a unitasker to do? i really need to be working on ALL these things at the same time, but wow is that hard for me. it’s a major accomplishment that i’ve even managed to update this blog today while doing something else – even if it is just listening to cds. (don’t even get me started on all the various blog posts i want to be writing, on topics ranging from the last few episodes of treme, which i finally found online to watch, to the new police chief in nola, and the goddamn oilpocalypse happening out in the gulf and currently washing up on louisiana’s shores.)

i guess i’ll just keep trucking along, doing the best i can. it’s all i can do.

yes, i’m still alive…

just really, really busy. it’s been a crazy week so far.

the first weekend of jazz fest feels like it was a million years ago to me now. my last post was on saturday afternoon, so to recap the rest of my weekend:

i did hang out at porchfest 2010 on saturday night. we lucked into an easy parking spot and camped out for the afternoon/evening on the porch with the other non-festing and then later, festing, revelers. the weather was pretty great and the band was awesome and there was a sizeable crowd. we were pooped by 9:30 or so though, so it wasn’t a late night.

sunday, though i wasn’t feeling all that well, we ended up heading out to the fairgrounds for our one day at jazz fest. the weather couldn’t have been better, and we again lucked into a perfect parking spot at jen and mary ann’s with no hassle. i wasn’t very set on hearing any specific music – though we did catch a lovely few songs at the beginning of theresa andersson’s set at the fais do do stage – so our day was mostly spent wandering around eating. let’s see if i can remember what i ate: i had the fried eggplant with crawfish sauce as my first appetizer, and fae shared her boudain balls with me. next i had some jama jama (sauteed spinach) and fried plantains from benechin over in the congo area (i skipped the chicken on a stick this time). we shared a strawberry lemonade and later an iced tea. there was some glorious downtime in the gospel tent, enjoying the shade and the breeze and the electrifying crownseekers (their lead singer had the most amazing falsetto voice – wow did he hit some high notes!) with deuce and puma. we visited with karen and debra in karen’s booth in the louisiana folk life/marketplace area. at some point i had a snoball (strawberry) from plum street. oh, and fae ate a cochon de lait poboy that she generously shared with me. she also picked up some cracklins for later snackage. as i was finishing my snoball, i couldn’t resist the white chocolate bread pudding, while fae had some strawberry shortcake. and then she grabbed some crawfish monica to walk out with for mary ann (which she had requested), and i decided at the last minute to get some spicy crawfish rolls from ninja to walk out with, which i later enjoyed on the porch back on ponce de leon street.

so that was our day of feasting. i think we did a pretty good job, knowing it was probably going to be our only day out at the fest since we had free tickets. (of course, if anyone has any free tickets they are trying to get rid of for this weekend, please do let me know! there were a few things i wanted to eat that i did not make it around to!) we also worked our way around contemporary crafts to see all the wares for sale, as well as congo and the louisiana marketplace. but we really didn’t listen to all that much music. and by about 5:30-6pm, we were done. with our last food choices in hand, we sauntered back over to ponce where we plopped down on the porch and remained for the rest of the evening, chilling out.

sadly, due to the chaos of jazzfest, our treme viewing party was postponed til monday. and even more sadly, on monday, when we went over to deuce and puma’s house to watch it, we all collectively learned that hbo on demand does not show the current episode of treme until 24 hours AFTER the show is over, which means, 10pm. not 9pm, which is when we showed up. and by 10, we were too tired to stay to watch it, knowing that folks had to get up early the next morning for work. so i did not get to see the 3rd episode and now will not get to see the 4th episode until next tuesday (again due to jazz fest). sad. (but yes, i’ll live.)

speaking of work, on tuesday, fae and i then started our training with the u.s. government’s census bureau. it’s been long days of mostly having a training manual read to us aloud verbatim, which is pretty dull for the most part, but we really love our crew leader and he at least does his best to make the training entertaining. there are 15 people in our training class – we had 5 no-shows the first day. but so far, no one else had dropped out. today was the last day of the verbatim training, and tomorrow we will take our final test and then go out into the field for “live” training – which of course means, we start knocking on doors tomorrow. i will probably take saturday and sunday off so i can enjoy porch fest this weekend, but then monday i will begin full time door-knockin, hopefully in my own neighborhood. i can’t wait for that first paycheck.

so that’s what i’ve been up to. things will calm down a little after jazz fest i guess, but for the next two months i think it’s going to be all-census-all-the-time. i’m basically being forced to take a little break from the crafty life due to that, but don’t worry, i’ll get back to it when the census gig ends in late june. i think it will actually be good for me to take a little break from making and selling stuff, plus i still have my music column to write and there’s that pesky film festival that i need to finish programming and write up for michfest. so i got a lot going on for the next little while.

all of which is to say, i guess i might not be blogging all that much. but i’ll try to pop in every now and then.

my thoughts on treme

i keep feeling like i should be blogging about the new hbo series treme, like just about every other blogger in new orleans and elsewhere. i did watch the premiere last sunday and then even braved the somewhat triggering thunderstorm that happened last night precisely on my way over to a friend’s house to watch it. (triggering not because of katrina but of our most recent street flooding nightmare back in december, when i drove our car right into several feet of water on our street coming home from the freret market and we had to push the car several blocks through the flood waters to get it on higher ground. i’ve never been so wet in all my life! but such is life in new orleans.)

wendell pierce on set of hbo's "treme"

wendell pierce as antoine batiste on the set of treme, one of the times i was an extra

after last week’s pilot episode, i had many thoughts about the show, many of which i shared one on one with friends. but i had a hard time making myself sit down to write about it because i felt i didn’t have anything to say that everyone else who is writing about it isn’t already saying. i largely agree with the so-far-so-good analysis and the wait-and-see outlook of most locals about the show; it is refreshing and validating to see so many things about our beautiful city and its recovery from the federal floods gotten right. yes.

it is also a little bit hard to watch without letting oneself go back there, to that time and place, regardless of how your individual situation played out – whether you rode the storm and floods out here in the city or evacuated, came back as fast as you could or were displaced near or far away, or remained away for an extended time. regardless of how the events of that time period affected you personally, as a resident of new orleans before august 29, 2005, they definitely affected you deeply, and drudging up those real-life memories by watching a tv show that is based on stories – if not yours, those of your friends, family and neighbors – makes for difficult watching. some folks may be better at blocking their own feelings about the storm and its aftermath and be able to just focus on the tv show on its own merits, but i seem to be struggling with that.

my house, on the right, in october 2005

i am finding that i spend the first half or so of each episode having all kinds of personal memories and emotions brought to the surface which have been buried for a while, triggered by little details in the show. like, in the first episode, the background sound of helicopters flying overhead; i’ll never forget how weird and scary that felt, like we were in some war zone 24/7. and the national guard everywhere, carrying guns, which totally freaked me out. and even little things, like when steve zahn’s character recommends to the do-gooder tourists in the 2nd episode to eat at clover grill for breakfast, i’m reminded of my first visit back to the city in early october and that clover grill was one of the first meals i ate on that trip, with so few restaurants open; i vividly remember the stench of the quarter due to all the refrigerators on the sidewalk and the pervasive flies everywhere, including inside the clover grill. it’s inescapable, the memories, even the few i have being someone who fairly effortlessly evacuated and largely stayed away until things got better. (i was based in louisville, kentucky, post-storm, and drove down every couple of weeks the first few months and then later about once a month until i let my apartment go in late 2006. after that, my return visits were less frequent but i was still in and out of town on a regular basis, mostly to participate in art markets for financial reasons, to stay connected to friends and my community, and to keep my personal hope of returning soon alive.)

at least during these first two episodes, by about halfway through, my brain finally lets go and focuses on the characters and their stories. i wish i had hbo at home and could rewatch each episode, as i feel like i’m missing a lot of what goes on in the first half of the show, so caught up in my own head. however, i do feel like i can say a few things with some certainty about treme:

i think the cinematography is beautiful. it is shot with such attention to detail and in a way that accurately captures the beauty of even the ruin of the city. the lighting, the composition of the shots, the colors – the scene from the pilot of the mardi gras indian chief in full regalia on the pitch-dark street lit like an angel sticks in my mind – everything is very saturated and vivid and, well, real. that’s what life is like here in new orleans. the whole show is just gorgeous to watch from a purely visual point of view. even the opening credits are an amazing visual, all those shots of water lines and mold. (including one by my friend chris kirsch!)

the actors are doing a good job, and i love that so many locals are being used both in speaking and non-speaking roles. wendell pierce being from new orleans (pontchartrain park, specifically) really helps his character. he looks like he’s from here, he talks like he’s from here, because he is from here – even if not from the part of town his character is supposed to be from. khandi alexander is also very impressive so far, as ladonna batiste-williams. and of course i love john goodman’s character. i didn’t know ashley morris or even read him during my post-k time in kentucky, but i’ve become aware of him through others since then and have read his words and can really appreciate what he and his anger and eloquence meant to so many. and i’m grateful for melissa leo’s character, toni burnette, the lawyer working tirelessly to help ladonna find her brother. it’s a very real storyline, and leo plays the role (inspired by real-life civil rights lawyer hero mary howell) well. i think, in general, the casting for this show is spot-on.

the music, of course, rocks! i love that so much music is woven into the episodes, and not just in the background – it is truly focused on. i will hope for a little more diversity of music as the show goes on, but being able to expose more people to traditional new orleans brass bands and jazz is wonderful. i loved the 2nd line scene that opened the pilot, kermit at vaughn’s, the mardi gras indians chanting at the end of the 2nd episode and even crazy coco robicheaux and his chicken. but i would like america to know: there is no strip club on bourbon street that has a live brass band playing in it while skinny naked girls writhe on poles – though who knows, now that it’s aired, one of them is likely to try it! in all seriousness, though, i’m thrilled so many local musicians are getting to act and play their music in the show (and get paid!) – what a boon to the local cultural economy this show is.

i feel like one of the best scenes of the first two episodes so far was at the beginning of last night’s show, when janette desautel (the restauranteur, based on susan spicer) is making eggs on a hot plate, walking from her gutted-to-the-studs downstairs of her home to the largely untouched upstairs, and is on the phone talking about entergy needing to clear the gas lines… and she overcooks her eggs and has a meltdown. that scene was so very poignant and so very real, that the littlest things could touch off a complete sobbing breakdown in the midst of so much that was so overwhelming about life in that time period in the city. it made me cry watching it, and it made me remember how many times that happened to me and to those around me, my friends, as they worked so hard to pick up the pieces of their lives and put it all back together again. that scene alone has been the truest moment thus far for me, and points to how well david simon and company have gotten “it.”

i’m sure i will have more thoughts as the series moves along, and will share them. but in the mean time, i’ll be reading my favorite treme blog, back of town, which features many of the new orleans bloggers i started reading right after the storm and who kept me sane in the ensuing months and years – some of whom are even now my friends. and for you out-of-towners or recent transplants, dave walker’s weekly treme explained posts delve into all the local references that aren’t fleshed out on the show, offering great links and background for watching the series.

(below is the 14+ minute “making treme” behind-the-scenes featurette hbo produced about the show, for those who haven’t seen it yet.)

that’s showbiz for ya

wednesday, for the second time in a month, i worked as an extra for the upcoming hbo tv series treme, which is set in post-katrina new orleans. i’d heard through the grapevine, as well as seen a craigslist ad, that they were shooting a big mardi gras scene and needed costumed background for the shots. desperate as i am, always and still, for $$, i went ahead and signed up. last time wasn’t so bad.

my call time was originally 11am but got pushed back to 12pm. i geared up in my 2009 mardi gras costume, the aerosol avenger, and rode the scooter down to the french quarter. i love that in this town, the sight of a grown adult wearing tights and glittered boots riding a scooter wearing a spotted ladybug helmet doesn’t even garner a second look. after zipping around for twenty minutes trying to figure out where i was supposed to go and where to park the scooter, i finally figured it out. the holding pen for extras for the day was ralph and kacoo’s, where i sat for an hour or so before getting shuffled over to one eyed jack’s for a daytime mardi gras scene inside the bar.

the only actor i recognized all day was steve zahn. he was one person away from me, seated around the bar, for like ten minutes. then, they moved me from the back room to the front, as they continued to shoot in the back room (but in the direction of the front). for a while, it seemed i was in a line of people that would be in the direct background of their shots, but at some point, they moved me out of the way, saying my hat was too big and was blocking the light. oh well. much pantomiming of mardi gras revelry with fake drinks ensued.

"treme" mardi gras scene inside one eyed jacks

we broke for lunch (which was at 5pm; in my world, that’s dinner) and then returned to one eyed jacks for more shots. they switched the extras around – those who had previously been in the back room up front, and those who’d been in front to the back. again they moved me around a few times, and for one or two takes, i was kinda in the background of the scene. who knows which take they’ll use, though. so no assurances that i’ll in any way end up actually on tv.

they sent us back to holding around 7-7:30ish. we all assumed we were going home. i got frantic, looking for my bag, as they’d moved everything from the room we’d been in previously to a different one, including all our bags. in the midst of hunting for my bag, i was informed they were picking 20 extras to hang on to, for some final scenes. i put on my best “please don’t pick me, i want to go home” face, but the goddamned wardrobe gal who’d loved my spray paint can lid hat early in the day came running over, even remembering my name. and, see, when you sign up to be an extra, it’s a 12 hour shift; they have the right to keep you that long. and at this point, we were only at the eight hour mark. so i had no choice. thankfully, chris (skeleton krewe) found my bag, on the seat of a chair, hidden under a table cloth, so i could stop fretting about that.

chris and i on set inside one eyed jacks

the next almost four hours were fairly miserable. it was dark, and the temps were dropping. i was, however, still dressed in my tights and tshirt, sans cape. (the last scenes for the day were supposed to be at the end of mardi gras day, so we were made to look disheveled in some way.) they took us out to jackson square, and promptly picked about six of the extras to start working with, to stagger across the square behind the scene. they must have shot that scene 30 times, as the rest of us stood out in the cold, holding our fake drink props. two more scenes were eventually shot, and each time they picked a few more of the extras, but they never chose me. so until about 10:30, i stood around doing nothing but freezing, coughing, getting hungry and tired, and wishing they’d let us go back to the holding area until they needed us (or let us go home if they didn’t).

finally, it was a wrap and we were released. stood in line to check out to get the all important voucher (which proves you worked and gets you paid). and then had to ride the scooter back home in the dark and the very cold with only a hoodie. i was a popsicle by the time i got home around 11:30.

so yeah. not sure i’ll do that again. i did meet some very interesting people, and got to hang with a few folks i already knew, which helped pass the time. parts of the afternoon were even fun. but being held for those last scenes – and then not even used – kinda soured me on the day. but it’s part of the deal when you sign up to be an extra: might be an easy four hour day, might be a horrible 14 hour slog. you never know til you’re there. but this is exactly why i think i’m not really cut out for this kinda work. at my age, i’m just not all that flexible anymore and my endurance is not great. maybe if i’d brought a flask of booze and/or some hash brownies – like some of those i hung out with did – it’d been more fun… though that’s not really my style. i would have been happy with a few real beers, though.

but it will still be fun to watch treme when it airs, and to hunt in those mardi gras episodes for a glimpse of me or my spray paint can lid hat.

krewe du vieux, take 2

fae and i got a little bonus mardi gras activity in on friday night. though mardi gras is indeed over – thank goddess, i’m exhausted! – we both landed an impromptu gig being extras for the hbo tv series “treme” which, of course, is set in and shot here in new orleans. i’m an avid craigslist reader, and so saw a call for extras on thursday; we applied and got in. (i don’t think they were very picky – they just needed bodies.) seemed like an interesting and fun way to both spend a friday night and also make $100 each while doing so. we considered it a “date.”

well, it ended up being interesting and i guess a little fun, but also very tedious and tiring. and cold. we showed up at 4pm and spent the first 5-6 hours mostly filling out and dealing with paperwork, and then hanging out just waiting for something to happen – though they did at least feed us pretty well. we were inside a huge tent located in washington square park, along with 200+ extras, many of whom were members of krewe du vieux sub-krewes and in full costume. (also many crusty anarchist and eclectic hipster types.)

extras holding tent

the scene they were shooting was set against the backdrop of the 2006 krewe du vieux parade, the first mardi gras parade post-katrina. so they had 3 floats (not sure if they were the originals – probably not since kdv had a den fire last summer – but if not, they were great replicas) and 3 sub-krewes (again, not sure if they were all actual members of the sub-krewes or other folks from kdv or what, but my guess is that they were, cuz those costumes looked original) plus a few brass bands. they’d blocked off two blocks of royal street between frenchmen and kerlerec and had the whole set illuminated by giant flood lights.

on set of hbo's "treme"

the actual shooting only took about 3-4 hours, which was good since it was still pretty cold out. some scenes were shot with full brass band music and crowd noise, just like a real parade, but many scenes were shot with us pantomiming the action while being silent so they could record dialogue between the actors in the scene. it was weird to try to replicate the energy and activity of an actual parade without any sound, and over and over again. i know this is what actors do, but most of the extras were not actors, so it felt kinda ridiculous. but i guess we did an ok job of it.

i did see wendell pierce, who is one of the main characters in the series. he plays a horn player in a brass band, and was in many of the scenes shot and was on set most of the night. we also saw john goodman, who i have heard plays an ashley morris-inspired character, but he was only around for five minutes (or if he was there longer, i didn’t see him), so i didn’t get a picture of him.

wendell pierce on set of hbo's "treme"

wendell pierce on set of hbo's "treme"

all in all, i guess i’m glad we did it. (we’ll be more glad when our paychecks come in the mail!) fae’s friend and former professor kate was also there, as was rollergirl sophie nuke ’em, so at least we had some folks to talk to and hang out with. i guess i’d do it again if i have the opportunity, as it’s pretty easy “work” for the money, but it is a big time commitment and next time i need to bring a book or some things to help pass the waiting-around time. and dress warmer if it’s still cold.

guess i now need to find a way to watch the series when it starts in april, as i don’t have hbo.

more pics available on my flickr page.