Ten Years Later: Another Open Letter To The People Of Lafayette, Louisiana

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Time flies, doesn’t it? Ten years ago today — ten years ago tonight, if we want to get technical — my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I loaded up the car and left.

We didn’t think we’d do it. We never had before. But when we woke up on Saturday, August 27, 2005, and we saw that the hurricane we’d been joking about on Friday was heading straight for New Orleans — as a category 5? — we thought again.

It’s a curious thing, instinct. Everywhere you look, people encourage us to trust our instincts, to go with them them. But go where, exactly? As Katrina churned in the Gulf, our own instincts failed us. They told us stay and fight, while logic said, “Don’t be fools. Just flee.” Thankfully, logic won out, our stubbornness melted, our bravado deflated. Hours before we made a decision, I quietly filled up the tank.

And then we came to you. We left at 12:10am on August 28 and got to Lafayette three hours later. Obviously, 3:00am is a terrible time to arrive anywhere — work, an airport, Taco Bell, anywhere. No one who gets anywhere at 3:00am really wants to be there. No one who greets anyone who’s arriving at 3:00am is happy about it, either. But at 3:00am on August 28, 2005, we were greeted by one your own, a man who would soon become a dear friend. Don was waiting for us in the driveway, making sure we found the right house. He hugged us all, ushered us quietly to our room, dogs and luggage and everything, and we collapsed.

Over the following days and weeks, that scene was repeated dozens of times. Not at 3:00am, thankfully, but at respectable hours and in every imaginable place. At restaurants, at shopping malls, at the gym. At drug stores and garages and banks. Lots of cities pride themselves on being hospitable. Lafayette, you lived up to it.

We have not lived up to our end of the bargain, though. We said we’d visit. We said we’d stay in touch. And we failed. At first, we were distracted by rebuilding our city, then we were distracted by the same things that distract everyone: the daily routine of work, bills, parties, grief, movies. Minutiae.

So, you’ll just have to believe me when I say that you’ve been in our hearts and on our minds the whole time. We’ve never taken your kindness for granted. We’ve always known that we’ll never be able to repay you. Or at least, we hope we won’t. We would never want to put you through that.

Anyway, the thing I wanted to say is: thank you.

Thank you to Drew, who pestered us that Saturday every hour, on the hour, urging us to leave, insisting that we ride out the storm with him. Without his persistence we never would’ve headed west.

Thank you to Don, who met us that hot, humid morning — and not just us, many more, too. He flung open the doors of the house he shared with Drew and found a place for everyone to sleep: friends, acquaintances, and more than a few strangers. And also: four rambunctious dogs, and later, one scrawny cat.

Thank you to Jackie, who put me to work right away, planning events and writing grant applications and preventing me from focusing on all the ifs and hows and what-the-motherlovin’-hells. She forced my head down to keep me from being overwhelmed by a landscape I wouldn’t have recognized.

Thanks to Vickie and Buddy and Todd for giving us a place to work and plan. Thanks to the staff at Red’s for allowing us to keep the “Katrina 15” from turning into the “Katrina 30”, despite the best efforts of the cooks at the Cedar Deli.

Thanks to all of you.

I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but if someone held a hurricane to my head and forced me to, I’d want to do it with you.

xo Richard

Thanks To Everyone Who Came Out Tuesday Night

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Tuesday night was weird. Enjoyable, but weird.

For starters, the launch party/reading was packed. When I arrived, I assumed that most of the people in the room had contributed to the book, but no, after a show of hands, it became clear that many simply wanted to relive their decade-old memories of losing friends, homes, photo albums, jobs, of living in a wounded city.

I didn’t get it. I don’t get it. I’ve been studiously avoiding most of the Katrina reminiscences, all the anniversary blah-blah that’s been going on for weeks. I mean, I’m sure Anderson Cooper is a nice man, but I already know the story he’s going to run on CNN. I know what all of them are going to say. In 2005, the narrative was pain, despair, loss. Now, it’s resilience, struggle, determination. I got it. I get it.

What I’m saying is, if Cynthia hadn’t asked me to read at the event, I doubt I’d have come on my own.

The other weird thing was that I began choking up in front of all those people. I read the “Home, Briefly” piece — the one about finding our cat, Lola. I’d spent an hour Tuesday afternoon whittling it down a bit, taking out some of the obscure references of the time, making it shorter and more understandable to an audience who may not have been around. I didn’t feel anything particularly profound then. I was just editing.

But saying the words aloud was strange. As they tumbled out of my mouth, I vividly remembered the hesitation of approaching our abandoned house, the joy of believing that Lola had been rescued, the shock of discovering her lifeless body in the study, the anger and sadness I felt while digging her shallow grave in the heat of a mid-September day.

I didn’t cry when I wrote those words, but I almost did when I spoke them ten years later. I’m not sure whether I was crying for me or for Lola or for the city or for the losses of everyone else in the room, which Lola represented at that precise moment in time. Maybe it was all of that.

Some Of My Blog Posts Are In A Book About Life In New Orleans After Katrina

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I don’t update this website nearly as often as I used to. Mostly, that’s because I write for other people now, which doesn’t leave much time for me to get my own thoughts down on virtual paper. Also, a lot of my thoughts are frivolous and better suited to Facebook or Twitter than a full-on blog post.

Ten years ago, it was a different story. Ten years ago, I wasn’t writing for other people. Ten years ago, we didn’t have access to Facebook or Twitter — or Tumblr, Instagram, or a bajillion other micro-photo-social-network-blogging thingamajigs that would have allowed me to Let It All Out.

But what we did have ten years ago was a hurricane. A big one.

I don’t draw or knit or paint, I don’t do well with things that require visualization of space. (Even though I loved geometry in school. Go figure.) When I need to express something, I’ve always relied on words. After Katrina, I relied on them heavily. Words helped keep me sane-ish. I could put my head down and write, and every once in a while, I’d look up, and things would be a little bit better. Blogging wasn’t just a means for venting, or a talking cure. It was a way to pass the time and get from What The Hell Just Happened to New Orleans’ New Normal.

Even so, I’m not a very good writer. But what I lack in quality, I can make up for in quantity. Ten years ago, on this here website, I posted a lot. Most of it was crap, little of it has resonance today. But two of the posts that remain readable are included in a new book called Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina.

I’m still not sure if I want to dredge up all the muck of life post-K. But because I’m a polite Southern gentleman, I agreed to read one of my two entries next week at the book’s launch party. Fingers crossed, I’ll get through it. If you’re in New Orleans, please stop by.

Please Forward book launch
Tuesday, August 18 at 7pm
Press Street, 3718 St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans

Yes, Mike Huckabee Says My Marriage Is A Hate Crime

Huckabee hate crime
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Like Law and Order, the GOP persecution drama never ends. Then again, maybe that’s to be expected. As America grows increasingly tired of Republicans’ sexist, racist, homophobic, gun-loving shenanigans, the victim card is about the only one that the Right still has to play.

I still don’t get it, though. I don’t understand the logic. How does my marriage to my husband violate Huckabee’s religious liberty — or anyone’s, for that matter?

Surely he’s not just saying that he’s opposed to the principle of marriage equality. If simply objecting to something in principle constitutes a violation of religious liberty, why isn’t this fine, upstanding Protestant gentleman speaking out about the evils of transubstantiation or praying the rosary? Surely he objects to those, too.

Or is he trying to say that, as a taxpaying American, he objects to my newfound legal status and the tax benefits my husband and I receive? Because please, bitch, don’t get me started on tax breaks for goddamn churches. They’re granted exempt status because of the sweat equity they allegedly put into their communities, improving them with services instead of tax dollars. But when’s the last time that First Baptist Church of Anywhere put their money into a daily soup kitchen or a homeless shelter instead of a gleaming, glistening, members-only “family life center”? Continue reading

Christian Persecution, Or Christian Persecution Complex?

Jean Léon Gérôme, The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer (1883)
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I don’t like to see people suffer, even people I dislike. I don’t believe that turnabout is fair play. I don’t believe that two wrongs make a right.

So, I read Rod Dreher’s opinion piece entitled “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country” with a mixture of sadness and concern.

On the one hand, I don’t like the thought of anyone feeling persecuted (not that Christians are going to be persecuted in post-Obergefell America, but still).

On the other hand, the entire essay made me want to scream, “THAT’S WHAT WE’VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU ALL ALONG“.

Or, as one of my Facebook friends said, “Isn’t the closet fun?”

“‘[Orthodox Christians] are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country. We are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution. And we are going to have to change the way we practice our faith and teach it to our children, to build resilient communities.” — Rod Dreher, writing for Time

I know that those of us on the Left have our share of problems. But the lack of self-awareness among people on the Right — plainly on view the past few days — is staggering.

An Open Letter To Bobby Jindal, David Vitter, Steve Scalise, Tony Perkins, Martin Feldman, And The Many Conservatives Of Louisiana

Jindal, Vitter, Scalise, Feldman, Perkins: Louisiana assholes
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Dear Bobby Jindal, David Vitter, Steve Scalise, Tony Perkins, and most of all, Martin Feldman:

As a rule, I don’t like gloating. Like many Southerners, I was taught to be a good loser and an even better winner. So, the last thing I’d want to do is to kick someone when he’s down.

And boy, are you down right now. Marriage equality is now legal in all 50 states, including Louisiana. And you know what that means? It means that all your railing about Evil Gays (and very, very rarely, Evil Lesbians) has been for nothing. Waste of time.

You could’ve been filling the world with love and awesomeness and light, using your powers for good. But no, you chose the dark side. And now, you’ve lost. And from this point forward, until the last byte of data on the last sever is corrupted, until the last book is burned, until the last human stops studying the history of her race, everyone will know: you had a choice, and you blew it.

That’s gotta hurt.

So, let me be among the first to say: fuck you. Continue reading

Someone Please Tell Clarence Thomas That He Can Continue To Hate Gays All He Wants

Clarence Thomas
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“Had the majority allowed the definition of marriage to be left to the political process—as the Constitution requires—the People could have considered the religious liberty implications of deviating from the traditional definition as part of their deliberative process. Instead, the majority’s decision short-circuits that process, with potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”

— Justice Clarence “Pubic Hair” Thomas, in his sad, bitter, clueless dissent against same-sex marriage

Set aside Thomas’ desperate attempts to avoid comparisons of LGBT rights and African American rights. (At least he didn’t take Jindal’s equally laughable approach: outrage.) Set aside the fact that Thomas refuses to see the overwhelming similarities between Loving v. Virginia and Obergefell v. Hodges. Of all the arguments against the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality, this is the most telling.

Thomas & Co. say that they’re worried about the decision’s effect on “religious liberty”, which makes it sound like a very noble concern. Only, no one is threatening to curb religious speech. What Thomas and his ilk really mean by all that fearmongering is that they’re worried they won’t be able to discriminate against us anymore under the mildly palatable guise of religion.

But of course they can — and they will. Obergefell doesn’t end homophobia any more than Brown v. Board of Education ended racism. You can be a racist, sexist, homophobic asshole all you want, and the bible has plenty of passages to support your views. But don’t expect people to laugh at your jokes or donate to your church.

My One Wish. Well, Maybe

"Too Much Bunny" by Mark Bryan
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The painting above is by Mark Bryan. It’s called “Too Much Bunny”. It fascinates me because it’s one of those images that’s really worth a thousand words. Not all images are, despite what people say. Some are worth only 500. Occasionally 300. But this is worth a novel. At least to me.

I love it because it is pretty and somewhat familiar: part Golden Book, part Mark Ryden, part Edward Hopper, part WPA artwork (maybe). But mostly I love it because it tells a story. An enticingly ambiguous story. Are the bunnies figments of the man’s dream? Or do they live secretly in the walls, only coming out to stare at him when he drifts off? How do they know when he’s asleep? Are their intentions good? Evil? Ambivalent? Will they disappear before he wakes, or will he open his eyes to see them there, quietly panting and staring with curiosity and a hint of hunger? Will he be afraid, or are they old friends?

And so on.

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An Interview With Brian Brown, Maggie Gallagher, Franklin Graham, And Tony Perkins At The Shady Acres Nursing Home: April 28, 2045

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Me: (Speaking into cameraphone) Testing, testing, one, two, three. Good morning, everyone! Today, I’m broadcasting from the Shady Acres Nursing Home, where I’m joined by Brian Brown, Maggie Gallagher, and Franklin Graham — former movers-and-shakers in America’s right-wing political movement.

Maggie Gallagher: Ha! Remember that? More like a bowel movement! …I kid, I kid. Go on, Robert.

Me: Richard.

Maggie: Richard, Robert, Ronald, Rasputin. Just make with the yakkity-yak. Yahtzee starts in half an hour.

Me: …On this day, thirty years ago, my three guests converged on Washington, D.C. for the Supreme Court’s hearing on same-sex marriage. In newspapers, in emails, on television, on the radio, they spoke out against marriage equality and encouraged others to do the same. Tell me, what did you hope to achieve that day?

Franklin Graham: First, I’d like to say thank you for having me, Richard, and second, let me just point out that none of us ever condemned the LGBT community.

Me: Uh, I’m pretty sure you did.

Franklin: Not me.

Me: You repeatedly said that we were “damned to hell”, which is basically the most straightforward condemnation I can imagine. “You’re damned to hell” is, like, synonymous with condemnation.

Franklin: Look, let’s not quibble over what words may or may not mean. The important thing is, we were there in D.C. as an act of love. We were fighting for your rights.

Me: I, um. What?

Franklin: Now son, you know that no movement can progress without an enemy. You’ve got to have something to rally against — terrorism, immigrants, Madonna. Not the new, mixed-martial-arts champion Madonna, but the old pop Whore of Babylon Madonna.

Me: She always did like a transformation.

Franklin. My point is, no matter how strong your case, you can’t just argue for something, you’ve got to argue against something, too. We were there so you’d have something to attack.

Maggie: That’s utter bullpuckey, Franklin. We were there because we thought that what we were doing was right. (To me) Don’t believe a word of that “topping from the bottom” crap Frankie’s feeding you. We were wrong. We knew it then, and we know it now. Is that what you want to hear? Pass the tequila.

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No One Is Persecuting Christians

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Language is a powerful thing. The way that words are strung together in sentences, paragraphs, essays, and novels can change our views of the world.

Sometimes, people string together words in such a compelling way that people can’t stop repeating them. They become mantras, slogans. When they’re really powerful, they become arguments. I’m thinking of conservatives and their anti-equality rallying cry of “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.

Thankfully, that particular phrase has lost luster in recent years. (Even preachers seem tired of saying it.) Today, everyone on the right is talking about the persecution of Christians in America. For example, this douchebag:

“I think this vilification of faithful Christians could lead to violence in America.

“It’s happened so many times before, and all the signs are there that the enemies of Christianity are seeing ‘how much can we get away with?”

— Martyrdom enthusiast John Zmirak

I read things like that, and I think, “Please, queen. No one’s killing you here. Get some perspective for Christ’s sake.”

No one is persecuting Christians in America. No one is rounding up Christians and sending them to death camps. No one is vilifying people of faith. Not LGBT Americans, not atheist Americans, no one.

The only thing that the American public is doing these days is calling out Christian bigots. We don’t want to see them dead or in jail or out of business. We just want the world to see that they’re complete assholes.

Don’t get me wrong: we have assholes on our side, too. The difference is, our assholes aren’t trying to discriminate against anyone. You want to order a pizza from us or work for us or rent a room in our hotel, we’re happy to accommodate you. We accommodate all — even assholes. And we ask that you do the same. I’ve heard it’s the Christian thing to do.

And another thing: as it’s been said elsewhere on the internet, if selling flowers to a same-sex wedding seems like approval or participation in something wrong, then by extension, every shop that sells a gun used for murder approves of and participates in murder, every store that sells condoms used for hook-ups is approving of and participating in pre-marital sex. So you can drop that pansy-ass argument, too.