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Email From NOLA IIo
This morning the male dog sits smack in the middle of Iberville St. as I saunter with an exaggerated menace to my step up that same middle (on my way to the newspaper box at Canal and Broad, which this morning will be completely empty), both of us knowing the liklihood of vehicular intrusion is nominal. He isn't going to let me come right up on him so I wish he would quit acting so casual. Go on and get up and saunter your potentially threatening self over to the sidewalk. God gave me dominion over all this. Nowhere does it say--and stray dogs shall inherit the earth. The puppies are fat. People from animal rescue teams are going around leaving aluminum basting pans full of food and water and all the wild animals are fat. The skinny neighborhood cats have bellies that almost drag the ground they so puffed up with animal rescue kibble.
The male dog is big enough to hurt me--he appears to be a Rottweiler mutt--and I don't want to push this imagined superiority thing too far. It is just play acting really, me being the one that is superior. I kid no one, least of all myself. Even though I am the one doing all the moving I say, ok that's close enough, please step to the curb. He doesn't right off, but he does eventually. The puppies are outside the fence for the first time that I have seen. They are on the curb, all five of them. All five of their fat selves. The runt barks at me and the other four perform excited circular maneuvers and fall all over each other. Mrs. Rottweiler is standing in a sort of passive aggressive crouch that says--I am afraid for the welfare of my family, they grow up so fast you know....
I keep moving and cut diagonally through the gap in the blown down fence and walk behind the Rent Your Life Away establishment with the vinyl siding half blown off to expose its original turn of the century paint peeled wood, glancing to my left to see the cop on guard in the Rite Aid parking lot (who guards the portable trailer full of drugs, outside the gutted store). I keep moving through the wide gap between the two buildings, where the dumpster used to be, next to which would often be a thrown away rent a couch, occupied by free spirited downtrodden budget wine enthusiasts. Not today though, or 35 yesterdays. I approach the paper box and put two fingers in my jacket pocket and get two quarters, anticipating the day's headlines. And...turn dejected circles in New Orleans, Louisiana. I circle the box twice more, to rule out hallucination.
I walk back the way I came, without a folded newspaper under my arm, which for me has been seeming like my passport to let the drug watching security cops know that I am not sauntering with lack of purpose or ill intent near that trailer full of drugs. Back on Iberville, Mr. and Mrs. Rottweiler are nowhere to be seen, the puppies are alone. I stand on the opposite curb and take a picture, but I'm too far away I know, so I move into the street and one step closer at a time, take pictures, which, when later viewed, all came out blurry.
I diagonally enter the newly mowed football-field-sized vacant Pentecostal lot and come up on my house from the rear. Mr. and Mrs. Rottweiler (she is not a Rottweiler by the way) are checking out the aluminum basting pans on my block and then they go in the wide open house of questionable repute, across the street from me. The house is still full of its moldy, flooded contents; the house sits four feet lower than mine, in a neighborhood that took four feet of flood water. Mrs. Rottweiler comes out and looks over at me sheepishly.
You don't have to look that way Mrs. Rottweiler, don't you get it? There's seven of you now, you are the new majority, you could rule this neighborhood, briefly known as Louisville.
Email From NOLA IIn
Houses left vacant here in New Orleans are being occupied by rodents.
Hurricane winds or those created by the many helicopters flying overhead post-K caused roof damage on the front part of M's house on Dumaine and a couple of rains thereafter caused part of her ceiling to fall down in the front room. An opportunist or two then came and tossed the place and the subsequent effect is that of an interior tornado.
The back shed got crunched by a tree and another tree rests on her roof and knocked down the back chimney stack. I've been over there cleaning up a bit and throwing debris into the street for the cleanup crews to pick up. There are three separate half billion dollar contracts for the cleanup and the estimated accumulated garbage so far disposed of now equals three years worth of normal garbage pickup. And believe what I'm telling you--that is the tip of the garbage iceberg here in New Orleans, and I don't know if 1.5 billion dollars is going to cover it or where it will all end up going. So that will be an ongoing aspect of this catastrophe, although, let me just awkwardly insert this, possibly competing with the crippled mail system, and non-functioning utilities for top spot on that list of things you never thought you would see disrupted for this long in a major city, in a first world country.
I pulled a rain damaged couch away from a rain damaged, mildewed wall and there was a dead squirrel behind it. I don't really like squirrels any more than I like other members of the rodent family and in fact the cementing of my dislike for squirrels began in the Dumaine house many years ago, when I had to climb over their dried, dead carcasses while doing renovation work in the attic. At night you could sometimes hear them obviously clad in army boots galloping around the wood framing of the attic. So I wasn't as grossed out by the dead squirrel as much I was pleased to see the demise of it.
When I started dragging the couch a little farther a live rat the size of Amsterdam scurried out and headed for that small hole in the floor. I do not remember that hole being there when I formerly shared occupancy and wondered if it was a hidey hole or an in and out transfer hole for some of M's less than law abiding mentees. I let out a loud yelp like a jimlouis and then went through all the dance moves of revulsion. So, you see, I do dance, you just have to get me in the right mood.
I went out on the front porch and saw something that shocked me almost as much as the live rodent. It was a thing that used to swarm these streets in such great number that you could barely keep track of them or identify them as individual things. You might successfully identify one or two, or very possibly even 15 or 30, but sure as you thought you had a handle on their number, three or four or 15 or 30 new ones would show up.
It was a young black boy pushing a bicycle with flat tires down the street. I bet he heard me yelp like a jimlouis. I hope I wouldn't have to kill him for it. He asked me if I had a bicycle and I said no but that I was looking for one. Then I remembered that little pink bike with the ghetto-retrofitted seat that I had thrown on the junk pile and said, hold up, I think I got one, if you wanna look at it. I climbed up on the refuse pile and shifted some framing lumber and yanked that bike out by the handlebars. It had more air in the tires than the one he was pushing and I said this one has some air in the tires and you can have it if you want.
He nodded his ten-year-old head and took the bike to the curb and laid his own bike down in the street and started what I could only assume would be the making of one useful bike out of two. I had a pair of grip pliers (vise-grips) to spare and I said, here, you can have these too. I can have them? he said. I said, yes. He worked there on the curb for a long time while I moved in and out of the house, tossing some light weight items. When he realized the certainty of his need for it, he asked--can you help me?
Oh you tricky, conniving, little bastard, with your clean cut appearance, and sincere, straightforward demeanor.
What took him so long to ask? I wondered.
He was trying to loosen the bolt and remove the seat stem on the pink bike, with one pair of grip pliers.
I think it stripped, he said.
Yeah, maybe, I said. We need another pair of pliers, let me see if I can find some. I went up in M's house, past the little mice scurrying over the looted potato chip bags supplied during the flood by drug dealers with time on their hands, and searched around and found a very nice pair of channel locks and came out and unscrewed the nut from the bolt, only cursing once, or possibly twice. He was trying to lower the stem into the female opening so the seat would sit lower, but the female opening was sort of crunched and in the end it wouldn't go much lower. Instead of putting the nut and bolt back I crunched the collar and locked on the grip pliers, to let the kid know I was a ghetto-credentialed bike mechanic, and said, it's not great, but maybe it'll work.
We were done with each other now. He would go on his way and I would go on mine. I was picking up my tools and already feeling a little lonely when that conniving little bastard hit me hard, below the belt.
Thank you, he said.
He then drove off up Dumaine toward the river, away from the sunset, on his new pink bike, holding on to the handlebar of his original bike. The original bike was now a ghost-ridden outrigger, almost useless, but not quite.
Email From NOLA IIm
There was a map in the Times Picayune recently that show the developed areas of New Orleans in the mid 1800s and that map can pretty well be laid over the post Katrina map of areas that stayed dry or relatively dry, and those areas that flooded.
So the Urban Land Institute is recommending that the rebuilding of New Orleans follow that same footprint and yesterday's paper has another map, one drawn up by the ULI and it shows this Rocheblave neighborhood and the Dumaine neighborhood as falling inside that area they consider to have minimal or moderate damage and this is their recommendation--"Should be repopulated immediatedly and services restored to current needs."
I called another electrician and they said they just merged with somebody and have 23 licensed electricians coming in from St. Louis and, can I call you back? (yeah sure), so I'm still trying to arrange for electrical inspection of this property and possibly two others. And there is rumor of more city inspectors being hired or, accepting the volunteering of outside inspectors, so things are really amping up, sorry about that last bit.
I finally heard from M, owner of the Dumaine house (and wherefrom Email from NOLA began) and she is still in the southern Pacific Northwest but has allowed me to work off some debt (for a couple years worth of taxes and insurance on the NC house we own together) and so I have started cutting away the tree that fell on the back shed and dismantling that shed and hauling it and its contents to the street, each trip each way 140 feet, carrying the debris through a 24 inch gap between the house and the cyclone fence separating properties, and so it is a little slow going but the pile in the street is growing and today or tomorrow I should finish it. And it is true what M always felt would be true--her backyard is greatly improved with the removing of that shed. But I can see why the quotes for removing it were kind of high. Lucky it is the sort of work I am best cut for.
I have heard from or about virtually everybody on my Find Katrina Victims list and so there that. They all fine; one or two, predictably, have discovered the criminal justice systems of their host cities.
There are still a few cadavers being found under the debris in the Lower Ninth Ward, now, almost three months later.
Those wild dogs I refer to are based in the first riverbound block of Iberville, below N. Broad, and they are a married couple (I'm not talking about Benji from Hell). They live mostly now under a house across the street from where their owner used to live, and ostensibly, will live again. Anyway, they got babies, Katrina pups from the looks of them. Or maybe born two weeks after. Somebody or multiple somebodies leaves food and water for them. They are so damn cute playing inside that fenced parking lot, come here little puppy, come here, let's play, but no, they gotta run away and hide under that house. There's four or five of them.
The Chevron at Canal and Broad opened a few days ago, and luckily for them the gas prices finally fell to pre-Katrina levels and so they didn't even have to change their signs, $2.49 for regular. Also that dude that has all the laundramats and car washes in the area has his Broad St. Car Wash open. And the Car Repair place at Galvez and Bienville was open when I got here on Oct. 2Osomething, and shortly after, Santos Car Repair opened (it where me and my nephew get our brake tag state required vehicle inspection) and the Midas Car Repair place on Canal between Dorgenois and Rocheblave, between the used car lot, which is also open, and the Rent-a-Harley place, which is not, I think, open. But that's it for now, as far as I can see. I mean those are the only places open within 10 square blocks of me. The open/closed business ratio would probably stay about the same if I extended the geographic parameter to 30 square blocks, or more, and excluded the French Quarter.
I walk around the St. Louis Cemetery #2, now, like its my own private park. Dammit, I should have annexed the cemeteries when I incorporated Louisville. Yesterday paid respects to Dominique You, Jean Lafitte's lieutenant, in the 1812 Battle of New Orleans.
When I work Dumaine I walk over to the truck at the shut Shell Station and get my Red Cross food. I get a little squirt of that quick evaporating sanitary hand gel, a stryofoam mystery plate and a couple bottles of water. Yesterday there was a whole car load of fully made up debutante chicks huddled inside a Land Rover in the Shell parking lot and possibly one from their group was obtaining food for some needy people they know. Or possibly they were on a treasure hunt, like that movie? William Wyler? I don't know, but the one where the debutants are on a treasure hunt and the last item on the list to obtain is a homeless person. It sort of felt like that, looking in at the pretty debutants looking away as I looked in.
I've got me a nice little home though. The temperature dial on the old school-style, non electronic thermostat for my central heating and cooling system, located in the side hall of my house which you would think was a shotgun if I didn't tell you it had a side hall, sits at 50 something this morning and that is fairly comfortable. It doesn't show any number lower than 50 but the dial will bottom out at a location to the left of the 50 and implies a number as low as you want, but probably only 40something at the coldest thus far. I have yet to see my breath, and it has really warmed up again during the days, but not muggy. Lorina and I can't decide if not talking to each other at all or talking to each other a little bit is the best formula for our respective healthy futures, so we hedge toward the potential mistake which best suits our needs, and that is talking a little and my point of mentioning this is I wanted to thank Lorina for not giving me shit about my cold weather complaining in this subtropical New Orleans climate and compliment her on the finesse with which she dropped her own weather report, "yeah, its getting a little cold here too, got down to 19 last night" (in Rappahannock, Virginia).
I locked my keys in the car again yesterday, on Dumaine. I walked back over here to Rocheblave to get my spare key, six blocks each way, and did not pass one single citizen either way, along the broken glass littered sidewalks of N. Broad St. Cleanup crew people on side streets and a few worker cars or trucks moving up and down Broad, but that's it.
One last thing. There are two, pristine condition tennis courts, hidden away, near here, in this area that has always had a bit of the armageddon feel to it, and as long as anyone doesn't think I'm including myself as anyone, I would like to end by saying--tennis anyone?
Email From NOLA IIL
All right, here's the deal. All the ground inside the borders of Canal to St. Louis and N.Broad to N.Galvez is now Louisville. Let the history books show that on this day at such and such a time this ground was annexed by that skinny white boy on Rocheblave. His intentions are unknown, his abilities in question. As namesake and aggrandizer of this newly self-incorporated neighborhood let me now pay my respects to those who came before me, and welcome those yet to come. Hello, how are you? Welcome, or, get the hell out, as the case may be.
Entergy sold some gas futures to finance the hiring of some workers and now promises to have the whole city energized by the end of December, and maybe into January a little bit for gas. It's cold at night (weren't you complaining just two days ago about mosquitoes and mugginess?) but not so cold that it could kill a person, so how much brighter do you want it?
I yesterday met the oldest living resident of the newly self-incorporated New Orleans neighborhood known as, Louisville. A Mr. Smith. He lives "around the corner," as any self respecting New Orleanian does (who is that? oh that's old so and so, lives around the corner).
Mr. Smith, you think I'm making that name up, but ask yourself, what the hell do you know?
Mr. Smith came and stood in the sun, below my porch, while I sat preparing to sharpen a chainsaw. I'd never met him before but he was aware of me and how could he not be what with the high profile of my visibility gut renovating this house, over a period of time greater than it takes to build a 70 story skyscraper.
People talk and he was aware of my movements a little bit, that I had taken work out of state.
I was worried about your place, he told me. (It sat vacant for a pretty good while after I renovated it, with some pretty decent fixtures worth stealing, a whole set of brand new appliances, and fresh window glass just begging to have rocks thrown through it)
I was too, I told him (It is nothing short of a small miracle that nobody messed with my place during the times I was gone--several months, two separate times--previous to having a renter. It could also be testament to the value of greasing the right palms.) Probably just lucky though.
Mr. Smith is 85-years-old and has lived in this neighborhood, now this is even before it was Louisville you understand, all of those 85 years. Me and him have the only houses in the vicinity that took little or no water, and, also, the only houses without the spray painted symbology signifying that the house was checked for dead bodies or animals, after the great flood of 05.
People don't understand how or why people stayed in their houses, when such a hurricane as Katrina was imminent. Many reasons, I think. Being too poor to leave, being too lazy to leave, being too comfortable to leave, or, being in a position where you could not justify turning your back on neighbors who were staying because they were too poor, or lazy, or comfortable, and, I think, as for the many old people who died here, by drowning or starvation or stress, and a good few elderly affluent people near the lake died that way, not just poor people stayed, it was I believe because they'd seen what a hurricane could do and the odds, frankly, are a lot better that you are going to survive it, than be killed by it. Have you ever spent 20 hours in bumper to bumper evacuation traffic? Neither me. Also, people outside of New Orleans just really don't get how empowering it is to survive the crime here. How immortal it makes you feel when presented with run of the mill challenges, or run of the mill crime, or Category 5 hurricanes. So a lot of old people stayed, both rich and poor. Some died, some were saved.
Holy shit, what happened?
The helicopter couldn't get very low because of that two story next to me and so I had to ride up in one of those baskets and it was a long way up.
(Jesus, I'd watched those rescues on the television and it scared me, even from the comfort of my best friend's leather easy chair, in the basement of his mansion). Were you scared?
Mr. Smith just shook his head in that way that means, yes.
He told me some other things but they relate to another story, which you are not going to hear, today. Then he said:
That building there across the street (he's talking about the chauffeur's very slow to be renovated place) used to be a bank. Some men from Chicago were told it would be easy so they came down to rob it. They're running out the bank and the cops come and there's a big shootout. A man, lived around that next corner, at Iberville and Tonti, come out of his store and he was going to try and help stop the robbers but the cops thought he was one of them and shot him dead.
Holy cow, when was this?
Thirty, I think, but maybe '29.
There were poor families in the area, lot's of kids, and some of us would help a little, feed the kids maybe, but these three little girls were playing marbles underneath the house over there and found a satchel with $8,000 in it, this was after the robbery.
The family returned the money. Nobody ever talked to them after that.
Because...? ( I'm a little dumbfounded by this last bit but I guess I get it)
Because they were so foolish (for returning the money). And you know, the bank gave them exactly nothing.
Mr. Smith's wife came over and complained that she couldn't find him and they bickered a little bit and they were just visiting from the Houston area, to where they evacuated, to see what was up. I told them the city was predicting maybe another month for electricity to be back on and she said, to Mr. Smith, well that's it, I guess we'll go on to California, and he didn't say anything and then finally said--for awhile. They bickered a little more, with a finesse and patience born from years of practice and then she started walking off and he followed. He turned back to me, smiling. We've been married 61 years, she was born in the neighborhood too. He pointed, and said, just around that corner.
Email From NOLA IIk
I'm not starting another day but I'm getting ready to. Last night the mosquitoes won, and today, this morning before dawn, they are flitting around with pride, and little medallions around their skinny necks, which say--I am a winner.
I can smell carbon monoxide coming in through my opens windows, as if their were a Mazda truck parked in my driveway, acting as generator. Carbon monoxide and deet aromas mingle to become the olfactory hallucination/realization that is me smelling me, unhappily.
I went to the corner of Canal and Rocheblave yesterday morning to get my newspaper, and the box was gone. I didn't cry, immediately. They got one at Canal and Broad though. There's plenty of time and reason to cry in the new New Orleans, you don't want to do it all in one sitting, especially first thing in the morning.
Streets lights shine on the parallel block of Tonti, from Canal to St. Louis. And the one block of Iberville, from Tonti to N. Rocheblave has a streetlight also. And the 300 block of N. Rocheblave has streetlights. I have seen three properties along a one mile stretch of Bienville, between N. Broad St. and the St. Louis Cemeteries (#2) with interior lights on at night.
It's five oh five now. I'm going to break curfew and go get a paper. I'll be back...
That was close, I was sure that cop was going to U-turn and shake me, like in Treme yesterday, but he didn't, and I just tip toed through the wide river of water gushing out of the barricaded Rite-Aid store and got my paper out of the box. Two different people over a twenty year span have reported to me that they had dreams of me back lit by post-apocalyptic scenery. If this isn't it, then it's a pretty good warmup. I met some wild dogs as I ambled down the middle of Iberville, between Broad and Dorgenois, but I know who they are so I just barked back at them and said they better get out of my way by the time I got to them. Scared 'em good, boy. They are waiting outside that house they used to live at, and that son-of-a-bitch never did keep them from roaming anyway. This morning they got Benji from Hell with them. Sometimes he's a free agent and other times he runs with them.
That was unrealistic of me, having, getting used to, and expecting what was essentially, my own private newspaper box at the corner a block and a half away.
The chauffeur still comes by occasionally with a styrofoam lunch from the Red Cross, as payment for using my bathroom and keeping his dog in the backyard while he works. But as more trucks show up on more different corners, the food is getting thinner in quality. Chauffeur, you need to get your ass back down to City Hall and bring back some of that good food they giving out over there, because this ain't no good, I said, looking at yesterday's processed chicken patty and bland, mushy, carrot medallions. This is New Orleans, even poor people eat better than this, yes they do. He just laughed. I'm dizzy with hunger half the time and drinking water like its something I imagine has calories. I am weaning myself from the convenience of the Red Cross though (saw and heard another of the mobile Red Cross trucks yesterday, hawking by bullhorn riverbound on Bienville., "come to the curb for hot food,") and even though I have had some political differences with Red Cross upper management over the years the rank and file are doing good work here, so thank you very much, and in fairness, some of your dinners have been very good.
I still get an occasional breakfast at the gay diner on Bourbon, because it is the closest authentic diner to my house (Robin's, 1.5 blocks away, flooded bad, and Betsy's, 2.5 blocks away, also flooded bad) but stretching the dollar more likely has me having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and instant oatmeal for breakfast and then hitting an all-u-can-eat buffet on the Westbank for my one big meal a day, where for six bucks I can eat 12--15 slices of pizza or trip the lights fantastic at that Chinese buffet, for nine bucks, which includes a two dollar tip, unless I get that grumpy waiter (they bring your drink and take away your empty plates) and he only gets a buck. Yeah, and gas, and the one dollar toll for the bridge across the Mississippi. I am trying to mindset towards buying local, just never leaving New Orleans for shopping sprees in Metairie and her ugly twin sister, the Westbank, but I'm not there yet, nor is the city apparently very close to meeting me halfway with quality budget fare (something more than the Red Cross trucks, I mean).
Yesterday morning I ate at the diner on Bourbon and then strolled the streets of the mostly touristless French Quarter, nodding at passersby, and smirking lovingly at the staggering drunk party chicks pretending not to be drunk at 9a.m.
I sat on a Clarkson Bench between the locked up Jackson Square and the Presbytyre where a young goth dude engaged me in brief conversation before he was interrupted by this 12-year-old street kid who was pretending to be sixteen. I ignored the street kid until he couldn't stand it anymore and he said could he look up close at my little Ipod device (which I got to replace my Rio 5gb player that I dropped in a bucket of bleach water), because he'd never seen one. I said, sure, but I didn't take it off from around my neck. He wanted to hear something so I let him stick the ear buds up inside his ear canal and he then signaled me when he wanted me to forward to another song. The Nina Simone version of Strange Fruit scared him. He gave me back the ear buds and went to bum change from the grumpy.
The sun is up full, but its still very early. I had my peanut butter sandwich and coffee, and out the window I can see the light is different and the cold front is on its way and I'm pretty much ready to be a little cold instead of this very muggy mid November weather we've been having here.
Oh, look, today's paper says I can now stay in my 70119 home, what? Oh, only parts of the 70119?
Superior officers appear to be genuinely chagrined that some National Guardsmen got busted looting liquor from a rich person's home in the East, on Monday. And some people cried at the mayor's town meeting yesterday. Don't feel bad. Loss of control is the only control we got.
I always knew that if the Guard and/or an increased police force were to ever invade New Orleans, to rid it of its unimaginably violent crime, and I often wanted them to, that I would necessarily be a minor victim of that invasion.
I went and visited Claude Treme's grave at St. Louis #2 yesterday, which is a thing you couldn't really do when the Iberville projects were occupied, because what's the point of seeing a bunch of historic dead people in tombs that no fucking nobody is taking care of (no diss to the groundskeepers, who are keeping it free of trash) only to be scoped by someone from the upper apartments of the Iberville, scoping you as victim, wait boy, wait right there and Ima come and fuck you up; I could never really see the point. But I was there yesterday and then I went to the nearby Treme neighborhood and walked around a bit, but boy, this ain't Pre-K, and you can't just stroll through neighborhoods, sightseeing. Of course, most of the neighborhoods I've reported from over the years, you couldn't or shouldn't have ever done it, then, or now. Especially if they are deemed as important neighborhoods and you are not known, and everybody, everybody, is concerned about looting. So I'm just walking back to my truck and a cruiser stops angled in the street, pointing itself right at me, walking the curb. The angle implies urgency. I'm already bored by implied urgency. But I'm a good little citizen, what can I do for you officer? He wants to know who I am and, by tone, what the fucking hell am I doing here? Really, literally, I was just walking, not staring, not gawking, but I was circuiting the neighborhood somewhat, so somebody probably called the cops. There is a noticeable distrust of outsiders here so I told him who I was and where I lived. You could tell for a second he thought I was making up my address, but in the interest of moving things along, I asked him if he would mind if I showed him my ID. Seemed like a good idea to him. Then I got to become James, which is fine by me except that it reminds me of doctor's offices and, well, being hassled by cops. I even had the name of a neighborhood activist to drop and the cop Q&A'd me a little bit but I just said, hey, I don't know her that well, I just met her. I don't chat with anybody, about anybody else (unless they buying me a beer, and frankly you better just throw in an oyster po-boy). The cop seemed both amused and impressed that the activist had spread glitter all over her front porch, to discourage the crack afficianados, who were not impressed with her nascent ownership of the property.
Is that right? You spread glitter on your porch? Is that what he said? Because I can see that I guess, like, it sticks to them, identifies them?
Anyway, the activist's house got blown completely down by the wind of Katrina. So I was looking at it, and the neighborhood, and then walking back to my truck.
Why'd you park over there?
Because the street was blocked.
He nodded. I was giving him all the right answers. He was trying to be a little more friendly now. Had to run my license though, which is cool with me, business is business. I'll say it again, I like cops, when they are doing their jobs, even if I am a minor victim of that work ethic. Conversationally now, just between pals, he asked me did I have anything attached to me? I just will not unnecessarily lie to cops. I said, I'm really not sure, you better check it out. That could be construed as smart alecky but I think he could tell that although I was a little put out by this, that I was really trying to be a good sport, and he was trying, too. You know, it takes a while to run a person, NCIC? The cop driving never even got out or looked up at me. Just doing his job. Chilling, I hope, until the true very bad motherfuckers start moving back, and open up new markets. I'm standing on the sidewalk trying to make as much eye-contact with as many passing motorists as I can--hi, nice to meet you, finally. After about five minutes, cop says, James? Your social? I gave it to him. Shortly, he got out of the passenger seat and extended to me my Louisiana license, and said, Thank you. I said, thank you, right back at him, and you can call me a sycophantic, suck-up, bitch ass punk for saying that to a cop, but no, I am not really, I was just being sincere. What I left unsaid was--"for not searching me, copper."
Email From NOLA IIj
The gunfire I heard on Friday night was possibly the cop shooting that guy who in a struggle took the cop's knife and threatened him with it, over on Poydras by the Superdome, about eight blocks from here (or closer, as the crow, and sound, flies). Which coincidentally is very near that green portable toilet with the spray-painted (Katrina-related) dead body count I mentioned in yesterday's post. As correction I should say the toilet painting spelled out DB X 3 (with the arrow pointed up 45 degrees) and not 3DB, with arrow, as I stated yesterday. Of course, now, if the db markings were meant to be cumulative, it could read DB X 4.
Things are going well in New Orleans. I want to be the first to state that I am completely satisfied with the federal government's response. Looks like we can take it from here though. Thanks, thanks very much, thanks again. You were great. Those were difficult times and your courageous and heartfelt assistance was...well...excuse me...I'm tearing up a little...excuse me....
I don't know what to do about surface mail delivery. There is no mail delivery in the 70119, possibly because we were never taken off the "you may only look and leave" list, and I guess, technically, if you want to get all technical, are not supposed to be living on our properties. No one is saying we can't live on our properties though and some are even encouraging us to live on our properties. I don't want it to sound like there is great uncertainty here, because there is not. Things are going very well here, and if it weren't so likely to be used as a bad pun, I would go as far to say that things are going--swimmingly.
I pretty much do all my banking and bill paying online, and I am online thanks to the many unsecured wifi signals floating around here, but having my Netflix movies floating around somewhere in that question mark that is the New Orleans postal system is disheartening. I can go over to that Mid-City branch (at the headwaters? of the Bayou St. John) and give them my ID, showing me as resident of this address ( I knew there was a good reason for not changing my Louisiana license when I moved to Virginia), but that has so far been fruitless. Even in parts of the city that have resumed mail delivery, people are complaining that it only comes sporadically, and in clumps. I'm sorry, not complaining, just reporting, people are reporting that is comes sporadically.
Entergy has been taking a lot of shit but I want to say, Entergy, baby, I love you. If I don't adequately show you that love it is only because I sometimes can't see you, at night, in the dark, but I know you working at it. Honestly, I'm not mad at Entergy. They are doing a pretty fair job, under the circumstances. In fact, with energy costs probably about to skyrocket in this area, I'm saying, baby, no hurry. Get to me when you can. I haven't even gotten that first inspection yet, which I have to pay a licensed electrician to perform. I called the guys that rewired the whole house for my gut renovation and although they said they were putting me on their schedule, I think I probably got an asterisk by my name, because when I asked how much, and the guy said 285 dollars, I responded--two-hundred-and-eighty-five-dollars? I sounded like Gomer Pyle, not that there's anything wrong with that, but, gahh-uh-ahhh-ly, that seems like a lot of change just to file a damn permit, and glance at my undamaged wiring.
Little bit of a cold front coming down this mid-week, we'll see how that feels.
Oh, Jazzfest organizers are threatening to throw the biggest damn Jazzfest ever and are hinting at performers which will blow you away. So, what? The Stones are coming to Jazzfest? Big deal. What else you got?
Email From NOLA IIi
I'm sorry, the dog's name is Splash, not Flash. The chauffeur left him over here again because he had to make a run to Baton Rouge. It seems like really late but its only 6:59 p.m. And he doesn't like to leave him across the street, where his home is, because his home is a shambles, and only partly because of Katrina. He doesn't stay over there (oh, there he is, I can hear him, coming to get Splash. He's probably untying the frayed, yellow, nylon rope from my cyclone fence, and yes, there is the squeak of the gate and oh happy days, Splash is rescued).
I am in the darkness of my home, the one I have really yet to live in for a sequential 2 days as a finished product, now, almost six years after I procured it, in a state which was at that time (Leap Day 2000), somewhat less than pristine.
I've been watching some really bad cinema on the laptops. Sometimes the car battery gets weak and the converter kicks off and so the hundred foot extension cord running out of the truck up to and through this bedroom window is only an orange rubber ribbon, a signal of failure and broken dreams (just kidding with that last bit, the extension cord in fact signals nothing of that sort, just seeing if I could make you cringe, and I did, didn't I?). But when that happens the computer has to run on its own battery. So I have to intermission and switch the DVD from one computer to the other, if say, the computer wasn't fully charged to begin with. A former friend who doesn't speak to me anymore used to set the minimal standard for a movie as whether or not it was in focus; no matter how bad it was, she was gracious enough to admit that, "at least it was in focus." Some of these compilations, four flicks on two DVDs, for $5.50 a pop aren't focused that well. But I love them just the same because they all got one thing in common--big name actors, at a less than big point in their careers. Sharon Stone as a calendar girl, Kelly McGillis as an Army brat bent on revenge, Martin Sheen as a trapper back in the Wild West, Burt Reynolds as Navajo Joe. I haven't even gotten to the Mobster Movie collection ( could this be true? 8 feature films on 2 DVDs, all for five dollars fifty cent)?
Don't forget you have the engine running and the truck unlocked out in the driveway. You seem to have let your guard down a bit in response to your neighborhood's zero population. You need to tighten up and this I'm telling you up front so I don't have to tell you after the fact.
Yeah, I'm starting to see a few little dudes cruising by in their automobiles, windows tinted black black all the way around, driving slow on tires with shiny, glittering wheel covers, some of which do tricks and spin independently of the tires themselves.
Splash, before the chauffeur came and got him, was barking like a good dog at a disturbance over yonder at Iberville and Dorgenois, in that two story, below which was once a moderately famous soul food establishment and then became an apothecary or spiritual church or someplace that sells trinkets and incense and potions which have in common usefulness in both Catholic and Voodoo ceremony. Not a tourist hangout, mind you.
She had come by the other day, that woman who used to call me "Friend," and whose name I forget, and never really tried to learn because her on again off again boyfriend seemed sort of the jealous type, I am too, so I didn't ever try to be actual friends with her, but she was tight with both the working class and the street dudes around here. Was a good example of a normal person who did things in the hood which might, depending on how you look at it, shine an unkind light on her, but she was really just a solid citizen with tastes similar to those you might condemn as crackheads, all disdainful-like because they stole your front door, or your ladder, or your car battery, or anything not tied down. They make friends with you and then steal your shit. It is a frustrating thing. She borrowed my phone but nobody was home. I bummed a cigarette, a thing I have done four or five times in the last month, from various people, because I got tired of that accomplishment, saying I hadn't had a cigarette in 7 years, blah, blah, blah. They make me dizzy.
Well, maybe it was her over there, she said she was staying there before the storm. I'm hiding like the post I am up against my front porch column, looking back that way and a door opens and a wavering rectangle of candle light comes from inside one of the top floor apartments. Probably but not necessarily one with a roof still over it. It hasn't rained here for awhile. There is a beam of car headlight in the street but I can't see the car. People are talking but I can't tell if it is friendly talk or angry talk. Something like the size of a satchel gets thrown over the railing into the dark shadows. I hope she is careful over there because it looks like that place could fall down.
And finally, I did last night hear gunshots for the first time since coming back. And then the weirdest thing, almost instantaneous police sirens, which lasted a long time, as if a chase were happening, but possibly the two were not related at all. But I never in the past heard gunshots and sirens so close to each other.
A few hours earlier there were fire truck sirens going over to Franklin St. because more and more people are burning their houses down, either because their insurance companies had anal sex with them regarding flood damage, and fire policy is all they got left, or, maybe candles are falling over in the many homes still without electricity.
Some military guys drove by Rocheblave yesterday, all jammed into a Hummvee. They had their helmets on, which sort of scared me. Perhaps just dressed up for Veterans Day celebrations.
There is a portable toilet on Claiborne, near the Superdome exit. It has the spray-painted message "3DB" and then an arrow pointing off to a location which could be the Superdome or could be the overpass, or perhaps even, could be heaven. DB stands for dead body.
Email From NOLA IIh
I was a goddamn liar yesterday for saying there's not too many people here.
With daylight the streets are fairly well clogged with workers in this lower Mid-City/Downtown/Bienville corridor--some white, mostly Hispanic, a few black, looking for work, and malingerers like myself, hitting the Red Cross for first meal at 11a.m., but it is after sundown that you get a true count and there's just no one here. Like before, you wouldn't necessarily see people out at night if it were really cold or cold and rainy, but you knew, really knew the people were here, and felt the vibes coming out of the houses, and now, nada, just a few of us doing this occupying thing. And its not cold, its hot in the day and pleasant at night, perfect night air, and people in the hoods would be out, en mass, stoop sitting, corner standing, cruising in their automobiles. Gone. The houses and the projects, dead, unoccupied or mostly unoccupied. The the eight block long by two block wide Lafitte projects and the similarly sized Iberville projects, both located between this Rocheblave house and the French Quarter, are empty.
If at nightfall you turned your back on the 9th ward and kept going west through the 8th and 7th and 6th (which is skinniest sliver of all the wards but the backbone, spleen, liver and heart, of Treme, or vice versa) and all the way down to Canal in the 4th ward, where the Rocheblave house is, you will not see any of that deliciously flavored humanity I may have previously mentioned here, or to individuals, in emails.
So I'm not a liar.
But I am an asshole.
And I just f***ing hate it, you know I do, it is a thing which makes me unreasonably mad, and that is having my driveway blocked. I'm coming back from checking my email in the FQ this morning and I had lingered a little longer than usual because these young travelers, two boy girl couples they were, from either Wisconsin or Norway is my guess, and they were plopped on the sidewalk with their sketch pads doing quick little sketches of the scenery and it made me feel a sense of something that is described by a word I cannot access due to apparent neurological damage. But I wanted to sit there and check them out while searching for products I don't really need, on the web. So I did. They left and so did I and it was close enough to 11 and I thought I would check and see if the Red Cross was still holding court at the Orleans and Broad Shell Station (the Shell station by the way has seen some better days, and hey, this is right across the street from the very first Ruth's Chris steakhouse, which did never let the hood daunt it, although today I read they are moving there corporate HQ to Florida). And people, oh, now its coming to me the seed of my discontent, some nimrod was blocking the entrance to the parking lot, sloppily taking one space that blocked four or five more. So I had to park and walk. I'm standing in line for free food behind six or seven others at a major New Orleans intersection and I'm a little self-conscious I don't mind telling you. But they are literally hawking these styrofoam dinners some days with a guy waving a box at motorists from the neutral ground. And anyway, if contractors are going to be charging twice as much in some cases, I really do need to be saving every penny I got, as I am not seeking any assistance from the gov., nor is my insurance any good for anything (it just a fire policy, and possibly not even that as events have unfolded.) so welcome to hard times but really this stuff is easy compared to the tension that used to come off these streets on any average day or night of the year.
Or at least I think I'm all chill about everything until I run into the cops, or, hired security ex-cops ex security I don't know, they looked sort of official but there were like four of them in some guy's chevy, fully uniformed and with the blue light on the dash. It became evident though, that I was holding on to some tension when I met them head on.
I had just got to my driveway and one of the sculptor's friends, or a hired contractor, has their passenger car parked as neatly as can be right in the nicely swept crumbled concrete across the front of my driveway. I did that heavy sigh thing, said fuck fuck, and then backed up pissed off and sped to the Iberville corner. I was turning right against the one way so I could go the half block to the L of the vacant Pentecostal lot and jump the curb and drive cross country to my driveway.
The cops are coming the proper way down Iberville at just that moment (by the way, great decoy undercover piece of crap car, guys, totally fooled me), and as I'm just starting to turn right these guys pull head on to me to block my progress. There were, I knew, nails in that debris of boards at the corner, but I had for a moment contemplated taking the sidewalk to evade these whothefucks. That is how seriously I was taking them as a non threat. To further state my lack of concern for this roadblock I opened my truck door and stuck my head out, which is a thing I would never ever do to real cops, that is, try to exit the vehicle without permission.
The driver sticks his head out his open door, just like me, and says, this is a one way street. I said there some yum yum blocking my driveway and I need to jump the curb and drive through the vacant lot. I was really pissed (and sort of mean looking I noticed later in the mirror). For backup a cop started getting out of the backseat but only halfway, like me and the first cop. None of us were really into this confrontation. In an effort to not make matters worse I purposely did not make eye contact with the second cop because I was intuiting that he would not take well to the look of contempt I would have for him. All kidding aside, I love cops, for the most part. We as humans are not to be trusted without them. But this was some bubble gum bullshit and I don't know what really was at the core of my discontent but it would not improve if there was going to be a rent a cop hovering every time I was guilty of minor infractions. The driver cop said again, just in case I was a complete moron, this is a one way street, you need to circle the block and come in the right way. The hell I needed to do any such thing and to prove that I said, as a last gesture of respect, I know it's one way, sir. I then shut my door, backed up, and turned back down my two way street and pulled to a screeching halt, in the street, parallel to the car blocking my driveway. I got out in a hurry and headed to my house, while keeping my left periphery alert for the cops, but they just kept on going down that one way Iberville.
After I ate I felt better. Red beans and rice, again.
The other day I was trying to think of that steamed vegetable that I like, but only in New Orleans do I like it and I was at a grocery recently and the man in front of me had two heads of something that looked like lettuce and a dim light bulb went off in my head and I thought, there they are, those things I can't remember, and I almost blurted out--Cauliflower, It's Cauliflower, but I knew instantly that was wrong, and then it just happened, not cauliflower, you idiot, cabbage, its cabbage.
Email From NOLA IIg
Yesterday, the end of the first week of November 05, in New Orleans, it was hot and muggy enough to require a full immersion cold shower and I feel even now, the next morning, baptized by the refreshing water of hope flowing from out of my pipes, here in this mostly vacant city.
I have potential support from many sources and am not in bad spirits, nor, as of this date can I create a list of unmet needs. That there are people suffering far more than I is such a constant in my frame of reference that--although I am not without some guilt for how relatively fortunate I am--I am trying not to waste too much time wallowing in what is mostly a waste of emotional energy.
Every new week brings new senators and activists who take their bus tours of the city and see what it is we are all seeing once arriving--a scope of devastation much larger than we were prepared for. All of them purport to having seen prior devastation, worldwide, and all say the same thing, they haven't seen anything this bad before. I think that has to reflect more on their lack of really getting out and seeing prior devastation worldwide than on the severity of this catastrophe versus others, but still, no shit, the scene here is mind boggling.
It's foggy this morning.
It is going to get cold eventually.
Mayor says eastern New Orleans might have power in six months.
The energy company (Entergy) in charge has filed Chapter 11.
New Oreans' bond rating has been downgraded, making investment here even shakier.
Out of town worker-looters are still a factor but relative to the crime that existed here Pre-K, those little punk ass bitch overpaid fuckers are really only a baseball bat away from eradicating. I wrote on the refrigerators still in the street this morning, "clean.up crew looted here."
I spent a cumulative three hours on hold, for three separate calls to Entergy, on Saturday. Entergy has always been very easy to deal with, very polite and helpful operators, and this is coming from a phonecallaphobic, but the second operator on Saturday was noticeably on edge, very grumpy, surly even, and essentially, just hung up on me. What I accomplished, I think, was having the utilities put back in my name. The renters are now set up on the West Bank. So the good news is I'm not incurring any utility costs, the bad news of course--got no utilities.
But Uptown and the FQ are up and running, only slightly crippled, and these are good things. Hundreds and hundreds of fine structures survived the flood. Being able to park in the French Quarter for morning grocery or breakfast runs is a thing I never thought I'd experience. I am constantly being cautious, taking the first spot I see, and then seeing numerous spaces, closer to my destinations.
I can pick up the Internet via wifi signals in various locations around the city (although I do have one favorite spot).
I know it is a better read when I report on actual characters, and my occasional interaction with them, and like I've said, the FQ and Uptown have quite a few people roaming around, but where I live, and did historically roam, is all but devoid of human beings, and still, completely devoid of operating businesses. Well, I know a couple of car washes are open. And, that newspaper box is selling papers on a nearby corner. And the Rockn'Bowl is opening back up, but, I never really dug it there.
I have run a hundred foot extension cord from the charging device in my truck and down the sideyard and into the bedroom window, and can now power up and use the laptops from the comfort of this air mattress. And although there is no mail delivery, and you have to take your mail and deposit it inside an actual post office, and then, one by one, try to retrieve your mail after giving one of 3 or 4 employees your ID, I do have hopes of resuming my Netflix addiction; I got the email notification yesterday that they had received the three I sent back last week. I was getting a really good turn around time those last few months in Virginia, but if I can get half that good of a turnaround here in New Orleans, I'll be happy. I bought some new batteries for my little clip on reading light because the days not only seem really short, they are short. And then I realized I can use the blank screen of this laptop as a reading light. The obstacles to my well being are simply no match for my desire to overcome them.
Email From NOLA IIf
It was always pretty quiet on this block of Rocheblave. And Sunday mornings in New Orleans were always quiet. I was getting ready to say how completely different and eerie is the quiet here now when a vessel twenty blocks behind me, floating down the Mississippi, gave a long sustained blast on the foghorn. I heard a bird chirp a minute ago. Somebody's rooting around in one of the Bienville houses, whose back yards back up perpendicularly to my side yard. Three crazy Blue Jays flying around, one slid down the slope of my porch railing earlier. They not making any noise though. I hear some vehicles moving somewhere. The cooling fan of my universal charging device plugged into the cigarette lighter makes a little noise. There go that aggressive Blue Jay sound.
Heard somebody say recently that the Monk Parakeets are gone but I saw some yesterday. They noisy too. Just not right now.
There was a muffled thump and a vibration felt, maybe the structural beam of a far off structure crashing down. And finally, a songbird.
The chauffeur went back to Houston for a few days. On the way out he called me and said the Red Cross has set up another food truck at the battered and boarded up Shell station, Orleans and Broad. I do not fit the profile of the beleauguered victim. I was not here for the storm and my house did not suffer any great damage from the flood waters. I have cold running water, and toilet, and even though I am without power I am living pretty much the same ascetic lifestyle I take with me wherever I go. Even on the small scale that describes my assets, I have considerably more value than debt and can afford to be here as an observer and watchdog of my block for some time longer, before my conservative fiscal sense requires me to take a job, here or elsewhere. So I haven't been hitting the Red Cross trucks but the chauffeur has and I have sampled several different styrofoam container filled lunch selections. The best so far has come from City Hall where the chauffeur was last week trying unsuccessfully to find out something useful but came away only with two lunches. It was the lunches provided for the few employees still employed down there. Brisket with gravy over rice and crisp salad with dressing and that stuff I cannot think of its name but its not cauliflower and I won't eat it anywhere else but New Orleans. Its like a relative of the lettuce family, thick, clear leaves, with some fat cooked with it and preferably some spices on the hot side.
So yesterday was my first direct contact with the Red Cross and there was nobody else waiting and I just pulled up, asked Lorina to hold please and went and got two lunches. The woman told me to tell other people because what the deal is--I mean God bless the Red Cross and all, but--there just aren't that many actual citizens living here, on the east bank of New Orleans, in these poorer neighborhoods. The lunch was delicious, chunks of white chicken meat w/gravy over rice, and an apple, two bottles of water and three mini-packs of Oreos. There are no restaurants nearby other than the FQ and Uptown, and nothing cheap and what the Red Cross is giving out is quality and relative to what I was getting pre-K in those same styrofoam containers, from various local sources, I would gladly pay three dollars for, but nobody is charging for, or providing, cheap food here so, such as it is convenient, and doesn't require that I burn a lot of gasoline to acquire, I will gladly accept free food, from any source, any time. Driving down Broad back to Rocheblave a dude walking in the street flagged me and I stopped and he was looking for South Broad and I said you on North Broad. He said I know, I said get in, shifted the lunches and that mornings newspaper and kept on in the direction I was heading. Four or five blocks later we crossed Canal and I said Canal is the North/South divider and three blocks later dropped him at the Carpenter's Union, behind which is a trailer, out of which I can only guess is being conducted the business of business, as regards carpenters. Here, take a lunch I said and he said no, he wasn't hungry, but I said, come on man, they free, and he smiled and took one, saying surely somebody in there would be hungry. He got out and stood there looking in the rolled down passenger window, all beamy-eyed, like nobody had done anything nice for him in a long time. He looked sort of like a blond, middle-age version of that actor who had his heyday in the forties and fifties, Wally Cox. I said, hey man, you are entirely welcome. I was a little bit my edgy aggressive self because I was momentarily pissed off. Nobody should have to be that grateful for accurate directions, a free ride, and a chicken casserole.
Email From NOLA IIe
I hear these optimistic spins on how much of the city is with and how much is without power and the reported numbers imply that there are only about 100,000 in the whole area without electricity and 25,000 to 50,000 without gas, two months after the storm Katrina or enemy insurgents caused the 17th Street and London Avenue flood walls to collapse. Perhaps that is spun to mean that juice and gas is available but not yet running back into homes until they are inspected and this I accept, but let me give you some numbers about as realistic. If 80 percent of Orleans Parish was under water then 75 percent of Orleans Parish is still, effectively, without power. Rounding up (by 25,000) the New Orleans population to 500,000, that leaves 400,000 of us without power. Of course, I would estimate that almost all of that 400,000 are not here and at least a quarter, but maybe half, of that number do not have livable homes to come back to.
The projects are not going to be reopened, not because they couldn't be utilized but because they have proven to be a failed experiment for housing low income people, and neither apparently are the majority of Orleans Parish public schools, a whopping 75 percent of which are failing according to state and federal guidelines for acceptable achievement. There is yet another new superintendent of schools here, been here about a year, and she thinks the state government is "rushing to judgment" in their threats to take over the local school system. I do not mean to suggest that the state government is the right agency for the job but this woman should just be fired immediately and deprived of that juicy pension package that all the superintendents seem to take away from this city. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who suggests that anything short of revolutionary change is necessary here in our public schools is a complete and total idiot.
All my neighbors, 75 percent of whom own their homes (although the total number of homes is only about 8 or 9, in the square block bounded by Iberville, Dorgenois, Bienville, and Rocheblave, have started initial cleanup and repairing of their properties. Without electricity. I am apparently the only one in this square block on full time duty (which in my case consists of a lot of reading and waiting), except maybe there is a worker camping out in that school building run by the Pentecostals on Iberville, near Dorgenois.
The EPA was out yesterday, examining some ancient acetylene canisters somebody left on the refuse pile on my street.
The four refrigerators are still out there too, in front of the bags of insulation. It is on top of the fluffy, pink filled bags that the canisters lay.
People are still writing messages on refrigerators and I'm thinking of writing one that says "I saw you looting." That would be specific to the one cleanup crew that worked this block on Nov. 2nd.
Had a cheeseburger for breakfast at the gay diner on Bourbon St. this morning but today no one seemed gay at all, rather everyone seemed depressed. You would think there might be a titter of excitement about the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla but there wasnít. Today there was just heaviness.
My nephew, who clearly, now I know this for sure, has never really liked me, is asking me to do a survey of his house in Lakeview today, because he heard that his walls are caving in and he's just curious. I am going to run over there shortly, even though the very few occupying Lakeview residents have hired private anti-looting patrols and are hopping mad about ongoing looting to the second, undamaged stories of some of their homes. I completely understand. Which is why I won't be getting that extension ladder from under your back porch until you come back and escort me over there, nephew. I did not survive 10 years in these NO ghettos to end up shot in the back by some uptight homeowner protecting their expresso maker. I'm just kidding brah, I'm happy to go over there for you. Also, I don't know what the hell yall waiting on. You and the family should get back here. You got the rental place Uptown. There is shrimp. There are oranges. There is beer.
(Some hours later)
I drove to Lakeview, nephew. I did not explore much but went in your house long enough to see the full back to front extent of your flood devastation, Holy Shit. I am very sorry (the photographs donít really tell it), but I suppose yall past all that, ready to move forward. I forgot to bring my mask and if there is such a thing as this really bad toxic mold mojo working, then you certainly got it inside Memphis, my lungs felt like Iíd inhaled razor blades after only about a minute inside. I did not open any closed doors though or venture past the kitchen. I was not eager to touch anything so did not retrieve the rumored six pack of Heineken, but thanks for the offer. I did not really notice collapsed walls though; perhaps your in-law was referring to the next door neighborís house, fully gutted now, guts strewn throughout front yard. I turned the pirogue upside down on the back porch because it had collected rainwater. If that is yours we should take it and store it somewhere when you come back, I have for years been meaning to float down the Bayou St. John. Lakeview turned out not to be scary, just like everything else here, sad. The scope of the devastation is hard to appreciate from afar and from looking at maps. I drove for miles today, without even getting close to Eastern New Orleans, or the famous Ninth Ward, and saw virtually no life forms, except for a few workers and a few camouflaged Hummvees driven by National Guardsmen. I did not see any people living in their homes, which is obvious, because as I drove north towards the lake, the water lines got higher and higher on the houses.
There is a heart breaking picture on the front page of the paper today, of a daughter inspecting her 76 year old motherís attic, a Lakeview resident, a feisty grandmother who stayed in her home but was thought to have been rescued, but wasnít, and fled to her attic, and died, with a half bottle of water next to her. Another resident who stayed but was rescued said that after the water first entered her Lakeview home, it was only 30 minutes before it was up to her waist (but she floated out on a boat), and then, like your house nephew, probably took about eight feet.
The EPA showed up this afternoon. In force. Four or five trucks. At least two supervisors and six or seven worker drones who rolled the 16 canisters onto the lift of a panel truck and strapped them to its interior. It was touch and go for a minute but I think the dangerous canisters are being transported out of the neighborhood now. All in all about two hours of hullabaloo. This is only conjecture but I bet it only took two guys about 30 minutes to discard those canisters.
I spent money for the first time in New Orleans 4th Ward today. While there are no open restaurants or grocery stores or convenience stores or gas stations, or anything, you make the list, there is a Times Picayune newspaper box at the corner of Canal and Rocheblave, across the street from the blue Postal Service mailboxes with their slots taped shut, and I felt for just those few seconds hopeful as I inserted two quarters and received what for me has always been a very engaging newspaper. Todayís edition was no exception.
Email From NOLA IId
Yesterday, about dusk, I saw the ghost of Shorty, who is the cat you are looking at if you glance to left of this page. I took a bowl of cat food and placed it on the concrete up against the Auto Title establishment, which is next door to me on the other side of the vacant Pentecostal lot, and that ghost ate hungrily and then pranced about with great vivaciousness. Earlier, I had fed the facsimile of K-2 using the same bowl, but from the raised bed to the right of my steps, wherefrom now grows only the dead stalks of a photinia bush. I took the chainsaw to the bushes the other day because they did not survive the toxic soup soaking. And then later, who else could it be but Kitten, with those very exact markings, and always staying close to that Bienville property which had once claimed her. With Shorty, being all black, its harder to tell but also, there is no way to absolutely refute the possibility that the cat I am seeing is actually the original Shorty. Definitely from the same street-cat gene pool, these street cats rarely growing to a size bigger than the appearance of adolescence. And the other evening waiting for the arrival of The Rebirth Brass Band, in the FQ, where they locking the gates of Jackson Square early, I saw three cats moving confidently, pridefully, inside their own private compound. Aristocratic cats.
And this morning I saw my first wild dog, checking out the Rocheblave refuse. I did not bring back to New Orleans my bb gun, or my shotgun, for that matter. Most dogs either drowned or were shot or were evacuated after the levees broke. Cat's just climbed higher. That dog I saw maybe belonged to one of the workers sucking out the storm drains down the street a ways. I keep the chauffeur's dog in my back yard when he goes to deliver his advertising circulars. The dog's name is Flash. He is brown.
Which brings me to this--There hasn't been a murder recorded in New Orleans since the hurricane. I contend that there has not been a two month stretch without a murder in New Orleans for at least twenty years. It would take a lot of microfiche spinning to prove that I guess but for now I'm just throwing it out there casually.
There is uniqueness happening here in a city that was unique to begin. There may be less of the unspeakable happening but no less of the unfathomable. More and more of us are camping inside our powerless homes, eager for the uncertain future, mesmerized by the present. There is talk of a new New Orleans being ruined by bureaucratic incompetence and malfeasance and a master plan designed by carpetbaggers with a Disney vision. But there will be no death to this ground that has been New Orleans, by bureaucrats or by any means, because there has been so much death upon it. It will be the ghosts who decide what happens here. And if its Disney that ends up here then it will be the Disney of your youth suggested to you by your college prof when she said--you really must take some mushrooms and go see Fantasia. You cannot kill ghosts, they do not drown. There will be no method which leaves this place unhaunted.
All day long, from sun up to sundown, I can hear the whirring engines of bobcats with front end claw loaders filling up dump trucks. I will stand in the middle of an intersection in my neighborhood for minutes and not be disrupted in my lolly-gagging reconnaissance by vehicle or any recognizable life form. And sometimes I can't see anything in the way of workers, in all directions, but I can hear that whirring, and scraping of metal front end buckets against asphalt. Other days I can't go a block in any direction without seeing a guy on a powerline, or a bobcat, or sewage maintenance truck.
Bobcat and dump trailer pausing at my block of Rocheblave right now, a discussion is going on. Bobcat guy clearly wants to move down Iberville, no wait, he's making a circuit of the block, just drove behind me, dump trailer pulled by heavy duty Ford truck parking at the end of the block...
They worked for about two hours, five white people, three men, two women, one of the trucks had a vanity plate on front that said "Bama." They left behind as much as they took and during breaks looted small items from houses across the street that were left open, and in one case not being able to force open the front door of a home, forced open a side gate that was duct taped shut, a guy disappeared for a while and came back smiling and said, found me a brand new garden hose, and tossed it in the back of the truck.
I called a couple of electricians today. Inspections will be mandatory to get any power back. First inspection from an electrician and then a city building inspector, the latter of which are coming from a department that has been sliced and diced due to the city having no income. Thousands of us are beginning to wait in line for a visit from one of four available inspectors. Electricians, however, are plentiful, and charging approximately a little more than double what the going rate was Pre-K.
I started writing this in the morning but am just getting back to it now. The sun is setting. Heard the crunching of leaves in my side yard, went out front to investigate. Two more wild dogs, foraging. One looked like Benji from Hell, had a frayed section of rope hanging from his neck.
This is me, reporting from the passenger seat of my truck, dateline, New Orleans.
Email From NOLA IIc
The guy across the street is a chauffeur but one of his limousines floated when the levee broke and the other got looted and so he was off in Houston for awhile but he's back driving this new van now which he uses for his delivery business, delivering mostly advertising circulars for a national drugstore chain. He's also picking up the occasional rider to the airport, came over the other day and shaved with my cold water in my clean bathroom and came back out wearing a suit and looking like a chauffeur.
This morning he's parked over there on the street behind me. Today I'm parked forward in my driveway, facing my house, the sun off the white painted cypress siding blinding bright and if not for these tinted reading glasses protecting me I would be struck senseless with the impressive yet harsh reflection bouncing off the surface of my past accomplishments. The neighbor is giving his dog something to eat and drink. He is writing something on paper, using a ruler at times, and snacking from a bag of cheetoes, all on the hood of his van.
He drove us down to the town meeting last Wednesday at the Sheraton where the mayor and a few of his council awed us with their political acumen and afterwards I said if he found us a place to eat I'd cover it up to the 23 dollars I had on me. On St. Charles we passed Lucky's, which appeared to be open, and The St. Charles Tavern, which maybe was open and then he saw Igor's and said, I'gor's, and I said, fine. Igor's is a bar with bar food, which two months post-K is served on a paper plate with plastic utensils and includes a thick slab of pre-cooked hamburger, slightly heated, on room temperature bun, with cool baked beans, for six bucks. I wolfed it. It was most delicious.
Upon entering we had seen out front on the sidewalk, an animated, attractive young blond woman with ample vocal capacity and piercing blue eyes behind innocuous eye ware, and she was gesturing and I think having a brief conversation or confrontation with a passing motorist. What appeared to be a boyfriend was standing off a bit as if unsure of his desire or ability to lay singular claim on the young blond woman.
Somehow the ordering process had baffled me for a minute and I had roamed around the mostly deserted bar and looked out at the sidewalk as if I was considering sitting at one of the tables there. Then I came to my senses and went to the bar and asked the bartender if they were serving food and she said yeah and pointed to yet another young blond woman who frankly looked a bit too fresh faced for this particular establishment, but was eager to serve and that warmed my heart.
I don't know what the hell the chauffeur was doing, hey man, you ordering, or what? He was talking to the blond woman from the sidewalk and she was talking to him like they old friends, which is always possible with the chauffeur because he knows people almost everywhere we have ever been together. Previous to talking to the chauffeur the two blonds were talking to each other and the one was very animated about her chances for the right potato chip and the other seemed patient but not bored, she only had so many chips to offer. After I ordered my burger I ordered a budweiser and took to drinking it with urgency. The animated blond woman introduced herself to the chauffeur as Sarah, and he introduced himself as who he is and I ran off to the front and picked the table open to the sidewalk but not actually on it. Passing Sarah she pushed a small bag of Lay's potato chips at me and said--wan't 'em? I don't like 'em. I just said yes and took them and walked to the table, already suspicious of the overeager, animated blond woman and her standoffish boyfriend.
At the table with my chips and beer and a breeze blowing off St. Charles I was content.
The chauffeur came over and I said get a beer if you want but he wasn't interested. He said Sarah wanted to help him clean out his house (of his water damaged possessions--his living space was twice as close to the ground as mine, so he took a couple feet of water). I said how much and he said for free and I said, good luck, keep me out of it. He took no offense and said he would but dammit, why the chauffeur got to bring this whack job to our neighborhood? I mean, they come and they double the population of the neighborhood, which for no specific reason makes me uneasy. What about the boyfriend I wanted to know, what's up with him? The chauffeur offered knowledge from past experiences which caused me to reiterate the keep me out of it credo. I don't think he's as goofy as he appears man, I tell the chauffeur. I'll look out my window every once in awhile, see if they loading your cold dead body into the trunk of their stolen car before loading up your van with your stuff and hauling ass. He said he would appreciate that.
The chauffeur took them the most direct way, which was sort of through central city. It would have been kind of a scary route with people populating the streets and I found it too be not much less scary looking without people. The truth is there a large swaths of this city that looked bombed out before the hurricane. I wondered what the so-called good Samaritans following us were thinking. I was betting they were thinking twice about ripping off anyone who lived around the neighborhoods we were taking them through. I bet they were worried about getting ripped off themselves.
When we got here to Rocheblave I jumped out and said goodbye and when I looked out a few minutes later, I was frankly dumbfounded. That skinny, blond, blue-eyed, Alabama girl was working her ass off, hauling stuff out of my neighbor's back shed, and piling it on the growing refuse piles lining the street. Her and her boyfriend worked for about thirty minutes and when she was finished she hugged the chauffeur, twice, and kissed him, once. I was a little jealous and when I heard the vocally ample blond girl say to the chauffeur he should go get me so I could take a picture of the three of them I momentarily considered ignoring them. But I didn't and when he came knocking I went out and took the picture of the three of them sitting on his steps. When Sarah said she was taking a piece of the refuse for an art project I just nodded and then shook my head and said, goddamn, actual good Samaritans.
And speaking of good Samaritans or just good neighbors I give a hearty shout out to my Pentecostal brethren this morning, who as I speak have their hired help hauling that huge pile of insulation-laden trash bags out from the middle of their lot next to my house, to the street.
One of their spokesmen came over to talk to me and I gave him my brief bio and although he said he knew it wasn't my stuff I gave him a peek at my insides to prove the insulation wasn't mine and said how I'd only taken about an inch of water to half the house. He didn't respond to that right away, but later asked if I knew of anyone renting around here and I said no, not really. He said he lived in Violet, took twelve feet. Ouch, I said, St. Bernard, I'm sorry, man. Thank you, he said.
Email From NOLA IIb
I got bored over on Rocheblave, opened a warm budweiser and thought I would listen to Saints football on the radio but it wasn't on yet so I came over here and parked in front of Armstrong Park to check my email, I guess I'm ready to take big step and change my Netflix mailing address, hope the show your ID pickup at the Mid-City post office works as advertised (did a dry run the other day, yep they took my ID, and nope I haven't any mail, which I shouldn't of course because I haven't done a change of address) and anyway I won't be sitting here too long because it's a little too warm right now and my house is the perfect cool temperature. All I really wanted to say is--and here let me say if you can't respond maturely better not to respond at all--I just drove past the Funky Butt coming over here and they have it opened up, fans inserted inside, airing it out.
Email From NOLA IIa
Today I write from the truck parked in the FQ on St. Philip between Burgundy and Rampart, engine running because the charging device I got has an emergency shut off if the devices you are charging drain too much power from the car battery, and this morning it keeps shutting off without the truck running. That is one of the new rules. If you are driving around, have something plugged into the charger. I have with me two laptops, cell phone, mp3 player, and a very small 2megapixel digital camera. All have to be plugged in at some time in order to work.
Gas is 2.80 a gallon here. Lorina called me about 3 this morning to see if I was awake and I told her I was about to get up and pee anyway. She said gas was down to 2.29 out there in Rappahannock, VA.
No offense to Cooter Brown's Bar and Grill with its hundreds of different beer choices but it just too far away to be driving every time I want to access the Internet. I found a gay-run diner on Bourbon St. and I have been getting eggs, grits, bacon, toast and coffee breakfasts for about 8 bucks including tip. And they told me of a much closer wireless connection, just 12 blocks from the house so I'm pretty happy about some recent developments (although I wouldn't mind a couple more eggs in my scramble for that price). They serving on paper plates, coffee in Styrofoam, utensils plastic. And look, I wouldn't even mention the place was a gay establishment if they weren't constantly cracking jokes between themselves like, "yeah baby, I want some cream," and some other allusions regarding bacon, and the cashier calling his male co-workers "bitches" every time they not getting his orders out fast enough. The one female employee put some lively dance music on the jukebox this morning and the cashier/server was a little more free with the coffee fill-ups today so all in all this new breakfast place is getting high marks from me. And the breakfast is well-made, all three cooks making better than average scrambled eggs and the one of them making the eggs better than the other two. I don't know how long I can keep showing up there without being thought of as one of those wannabe homosexuals, or godforbid, an outright homosexual, but I don't guess its that much different than living in the hood all those/these years and at least part of the time being thought of as a crackhead (why else would that skinny, long-haired white boy be here), or what?--wannabe African American? You can also be a dumbass and that is what you will be whenever you think people aren't labeling you.
Yesterday one of my Rocheblave neighbors showed up with a hand truck and we moved my refrigerator and three others to the street and now there is a neat pile in front of my house and extending across the opening to the Pentecostal vacant lot--a furniture pile, a tree limb pile, a mattress pile, and a white goods (appliances) pile.
Somebody left a big mound of trash bags full of insulation right in the middle of the Pentecostal lot next to me, a hundred feet from the street, and closer to my house than any other structure, so the issue of Pentecostal debris continues.
About ten blocks in front of me is the Mississippi River and every once in awhile, down that sliver of horizon offered by St. Philip, I can see the top of super tankers floating by.
Things are feeling good right now in the FQ. I know the town has got to have those tourists to survive but there not too many these days and it feels really fine to me.
I'm starting to notice a few of "us" camping at our properties. Saw a couple of people in Treme today.
It got a little too hot sitting in the sun on St. Philip so I gave up my parking space and am back in my driveway on a perfect Fall day, sunny, breezy, upper sixties.
I've mopped my floors a few more times and bleached the little bit of mold near the baseboards in the front two rooms. So it turns out to be a lucky thing my house is not level because the back half of the house was just a high enough difference not to take any water. And the front two rooms didn't take much more than would happen if you kicked over a couple of mop buckets. My wood floors did not buckle at all. I'm still going to cut out the bottom two feet of sheetrock and insulation in the front rooms but I'm going to attend a couple more town meetings with the mayor and his crew before I do too much. There is some talk about who is going to be allowed to do what according to the elevation of your site and at this point I'm considering the option of just cleaning up a little more before any inspectors get a look at me. My water heater sits in shed outside and my AC condenser sat on the ground so the both of them need replacing, and the fridge, and that's about it. My house is good to go. I might get me a kerosene heater before its all over, and I was at Mary's True Value Hardware on Bourbon St. this morning looking for an oil lamp, so I can read at night, but they were all out.
I was a little worried about leaving all that bucolic isolation up on that hill in Rappahannock, VA., but, here in my driveway, in the middle of New Orleans, I got all the isolation a person could really use. Today, nobody around for several square blocks.
I thought I was going to tell you about this crazy blond chick and her boyfriend who followed my neighbor home the other day, offering what I considered very suspicious good samaritanism, but maybe I'll get to that tomorrow.
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.
Arrived Sunday Night, slept in truck, eaten by mosquitoes, finally found reliable wireless at Cooter Browns, a little farther than I would like to drive from mid-city but better than nothing. Probably find someplace in the quarter if I ask around. I'll let you know what its like according to me, soon. This is a test. Looks bombed out here. Went to a town hall meeting yesterday. The mayor was late. The crowd was exciting. Many good questions asked. Few answers.