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Email From NOLA II
I have spent my first few days back in New Orleans getting my ducks in a row.
The first duck was getting over the excitement of returning to a city that would offer exhilarating new perspectives to a person overly enamored by such and the getting over this took very little time. The hundreds and hundreds of snapped in two spindly Mississipi pine trees along I-59 150 miles out had me going for awhile, oh boy, what fun is this going to be. Then crossing the I-10 twin span between Slidell and New Orleans over Lake Ponchartrain and seeing the missing sections of highway, boy oh boy, how cool is this. One section of highway was flipped upside down, resting on an adjoining section. A section of concrete and steel 75 yards long by 45 yards wide and maybe two feet thick, flipped like a playing card. That was only cool enough to make me start thinking about the reality of what was coming. New Orleans East as seen from I-10 is just as I had heard it would be. It looks like the city was bombed. Like Europe after the big one only without the amazing architecture. Most of NO East is comprised of housing stock 50 years old or newer. A few miles later I exited onto Orleans St. and down the ramp and headed right so the Lafitte projects were on my left. No people, anywhere, in an area where being out and about is the norm, day and night. A few trucks and passenger cars on the road, no stoplights, temporary stop signs at every formerly lighted intersection. I wasn't exactly prepared for how vacant the area was. I went by the Dumaine St. house and while the house next door, which had been thoroughly burnt several years ago and which I frequently referred to as Esnard Villa, looks to be near the end of a extensive, historically respectful renovation, the Dumaine house, 1897 Victorian, looked pretty beat up. Some shingles missing and a couple of trees lightly touching the roof. The front door was open, some ceiling sheetrock in the front room crashed in from post Katrina rains coming through the missing shingles. M's computer gone. I stole a rake and a broom and headed over to Rocheblave. I had already received pictures from a nephew and knew the damage was not that extensive. Many people have already been back to do what was referred to by city officials as a "look and leave" visit. Soggy interior home and business contents are stacked along the curb on every block. Refrigerators, stoves, washer/dryers, are asked to be kept separate from furniture, etc., are called "white goods" and many of the refrigerators are duct taped shut and spray painted with messages like "Tom Benson Inside," or "Tom Benson Liar." He is the owner of the New Orleans Saints football team and is considering the necessity of keeping his business solvent by moving the team permanently to San Antonio. I sat on my front porch determined to follow proper protocol and wait for a meet the next day with the property manager, with whom I had left a voicemail message. While sitting on a five gallon bucket on the porch the tenants showed up and apparently were coming to get the last of their stuff out, and this is what I had suggested would be necessary (in an email to the PM) if I were to complete a post flood renovation on the house. We exchanged numbers. I drove around, Uptown to Audubon park where except for the easy parking everything appeared normal. The impressive tower of Tulane University across the street, pretty blond white children on the jungle gym, fit joggers and cyclists on the path, a frat boy here, sorority girl there, and me, slumped against a tree, headphones on, Mp3 player in my pocket, pretending to read Donna Tartt and bumping on the one-hitter. I drove to the French Quarter after that, Sunday night, but it appeared as hateful with tourists and out of town worker-tourists as it ever did, and I became depressed and drove the 12 blocks home. I slept in the truck in the driveway that night but about midnight the mosquitoes were so bad I found the right key and entered the house and lay my pallet on the floor. Cold front came through sometime in the night and I was cold, woke up aching like I ached almost every day of the ten years I lived here. The property manager never called me so I have just moved back in my house, with no electricity or gas but running water and toilet. A huge improvement over my former extended stay of illegal lodging at this address. It is a fact that I have been an illegal resident of my own property much longer than I ever legally resided in it. Previously it was during a very drawn out gut renovation, from 2000 to 2004 ( some of that time with no electricity, gas, or water/toilet and the rest with only electricity), and now it is because the area has been hurricane ravaged. Also because I live in the dreaded 70119 area code, one of the most blighted (pre and post Katrina) per square inch of any of the city's area codes, and the one the city mothers and fathers are most reluctant to open up again. But I'm a good little camper and I got my property cleaned up nice except for the piles of debris and the belongings of the tenants piled high on the curb. I had a similar pile in the middle of the driveway when I first took possession of this property because neighbors had been using it as dump site. And then there was the ongoing Pentecostal debris debacle over a several year period. I'm typing this in my truck (the Pentecostal lot is to my right), bought one of those nifty little converters that allows me to plug my laptop or any pluggable device into a cigarette lighter device and as the sun sets on my fourth night back in New Orleans it becomes increasingly evident that I am one of the few human beings living inside their own house, for many surrounding blocks. There are no street lights up around here so its getting darker and darker, and quick. I can see the lights on sparingly in some of the Downtown skyscrapers, looking straight ahead, as I am backed into my driveway. If somebody drives by right now, and people do drive by occasionally, my face will have that eerie computer glow, and we don't want that, so I'm going inside now.
I've seen two cats on Rocheblave, since Sunday. Both of them from the black and white clan. One looks very much like the original cat I called Kitten, and the other looks like a pretty damn reasonable facsimile of K-2. I'm luring them over with a little food at night. There are mice in the house looking suspiciously like baby rats and they are curious enough to make rustling noises in the night, close up to my head, only four inches off the ground on my air mattress. I wish I had brought some of my new really effective mouse traps. I've seen a few of my neighbors and they are doing a little of this or that, throwing stuff out into the street and then going somewhere else as night falls. I washed my hair today because it was a thing overdue. I've been washing all my other parts in what I call the "cycle of need method of washing." The shower is a little cold for full immersion. A lot of us around here have circles under our eyes (so I don't feel so alone with it) is a thing I've been noticing. I wish they wouldn't say weather permitting but Saturday, weather permitting, the Rebirth Brass Band gonna play for free, outside, in front of the Cabildo, which is that building to the left of the St. Louis Cathedral and if you were looking at it front on, Jackson Square would be only a maximum of a 150 feet behind you. Something to look forward to is something to look forward to. Lorina and I broke up on Sept. 11, which is a shame, was in fact a crying shame, but seemed necessary at the time. Even without our respective issues our fate was summed up by the trite reality of a sign in the local VA. ice cream shoppe, which advocated buying and eating local food stuffs, and said something like "long distance relationships like long distance foods, are doomed to failure." Me, I lacked the courage to defy such an assertion. That Lorina though, she something else, I don't mind saying it.