Screenings

Xy went to a job screening today. It seems there are hundreds of teachers competing for 60 jobs in the newly chartered schools in the Algiers neighborhood.

As a first step, they seem to be weeding out the bulk of applicants with an essay and a battery of math questions. They plan to whittle the big crowd down to 200 or so.

Xy got finished with her tests before anyone else in her alphabetized group. That could mean she aced them or it could mean she was completely confused.

After the job screening, Xy went to see our friend the nephrologist and had her urine screened. The test confirmed what we discovered in Indiana a month ago: There’s blood in her urine, a trace amount. The good doctor recommended a blood screening for signs of the Big C.

He just called back and let us know that they detected no abnormal cell division. That’s a relief. The plan now is to check up again in six months and see if anything has changed.

The Plumber

I saw our Cuban neighbor, Jose, as we drove to our house this morning. Xy dropped me off and hurried on to a job screening (more on that later). I made my way back on foot but by the time I got there he was gone.

As I stood there wondering how Jose and his 90-year-old mother had made out during the storm, Derek Huston rolled up in his car. Derek is a sax player in the Iguanas and also the former owner of our house.

I gave him my number and he hurried on to meet a roofer.

I went back to my house and waited.

Waiting is hard, as we all know. I was waiting for the electrician and the plumber. The electrician was supposed to come Monday but didn’t. He was supposed to come yesterday but didn’t. Today I haven’t even gotten a call back. Not sure what’s up, but I think he’s got some labor issues with his crews. He’s had a falling out with his longtime helper Josh, another local sax player who is also a friend of mine, and I don’t know where that leaves us as far as electrical work goes.

The Plumber

But I’m happy as hell right now because I just met with Robert Coleman, LMP 1687. He checked our gas lines and we look good! We need a new water heater and a city inspection, but it looks as though we could have gas turned on as early as this Friday, if we’re lucky, or more likely by next Tuesday.

(While the plumber was doing his thing Derek stopped by and looked around his old house and we exchanged hurricane stories.)

The Previous Owner

The total bill for the plumbing work will be $1,100.00 which includes the cost of the city inspection and filing and the new heater and everything. That’s 180 for this visit, 350 for the new water heater, 280 for installing the heater, and 290 for city fees and the plumber’s time during the city inspection.

I wanted to get one of these “on demand” water heaters but there aren’t any in stock locally, so it looks as though we’ll get a standard tank model rather than wait around.

I wrote him a check for $600 now and was happy to part with the money.

With gas heat and hot water, I think we’ll be set to move back into our house for real. So far we’ve slept here only on warmer nights.

So, some good news, which I really needed.

Random Electronic Squawking

Been too busy and too preoccupied to post, so here’s a random grab-bag update. My apologies if this seems somewhat haphazard or disjointed.

We continue to chip away at basic clean-up tasks.

I bought a pressure washer.

The electrician was supposed to show up today, but he didn’t. The insurance company was supposed to call today, but they didn’t. I was supposed to meet the plumber today, but I didn’t. He showed up, but I wasn’t there, and I felt like an idiot when he called me.

We have not moved back into our house permanently yet. Tonight will be our third night here. It has been unseasonably warm, but when the cold front comes through tomorrow it might be a bit chilly without some form of heat.

Xy and I were speculating on what happened to a certain young thug from our neighborhood. Lo and behold, shortly thereafter we passed him standing on the corner of Gayoso and Bienville, in front of Adam’s Grocery. This is where he always used to hang, and there was something funny about seeing him there again even though the place was flooded and remains closed. Xy waved and he waved back, all smiles.

We stopped by Xy’s old school, which is still being used as a SWAT/SOD headquarters. Xy got a look at her old classroom, which is basically intact. There are still instructions on the chalkboard from the Friday before Katrina.

As for Xy’s job, I hardly know what to say. Her school was designated as a charter, but now it’s been taken over by the state, and we have no idea what’s happening. I hope to have more news soon.

Lucy with Mouse

Lucy finally caught a mouse, after several days of stalking.

Speaking of rodents, a few days ago we found a dead rat lying on the sidewalk in front of the house next door. Today I picked it up — carefully, with a shovel and gloves and a plastic bag — and threw it in the dumpster down the street. One of the more revolting things I’ve ever done.

Speaking of revolting, we re-potted a big plant that Michael and I had jury-rigged in a trash can a couple months ago. (The original terra cotta pot had been shattered by the hurricane.) As we grappled with it, a quantity of fetid water was disgorged on my leg, and the smell brought back memories of sorting through our flooded possessions. I’d hoped I would never smell that smell again.

We’ve been eating well: Thai at the Basil Leaf, Caribbean at Mango House, sushi at Sake Cafe, pizza at Slice, and some excellent home-cooked meals (at David’s house, since we still have no power). The home-cooked meals have been cooked by Xy. I have not been in the mood to cook much since Katrina. We’ve also had a number of hot lunches from the American Red Cross. They have trucks roving through Mid-City. Not gourmet fare, of course, but free and deeply appreciated.

Food and drink have been a source of immense comfort, and I’m glad to see more restaurants re-opening everyday. Whatever else happens, we won’t starve.

Tonight we discovered there are streetlights burning at Jeff Davis and Canal! Still none at Salcedo and Canal, but they’re getting closer.

As you walk through our neighborhood, you hear random electronic squawks coming from deserted houses. These are smoke detectors, dutifully alerting the absent residents that their 9-volt batteries are running low.

And, finally, I would note that a general consensus seems to be growing here, a mood which I would describe as a mix of desperation and determination. The feeling seems to be that the rest of the country has forgotten about us already, and that even those who have not forgotten cannot truly appreciate the devastation without seeing it firsthand, but that somehow, someway we have to make our voices heard.

Check

A check arrived from our insurer via FedEx today in the amount of $3,000.

It says, right on the check, that it’s “partial settlement of contents damage arising from loss on 08/29/05.”

The date issued, again printed right on the check itself, is October 18th. Note that it is now November 25th.

All of this I found somewhat perplexing.

I called our insurer after office hours tonight, and was astonished to connect to a live human in short order. I learned that this $3K check is merely an advance on the contents of our house and that a second check in the amount of $22K was cut on November 21st.

Furthermore, another check was cut on November 22nd in the amount of $82,294.03 for flood damage to our house — the actual building itself, that is, as opposed to the contents.

These two checks, I was informed, have been “cut but not mailed” because our insurer is waiting for FEMA to give them the go-ahead.

Anyway, we now have our first insurance money in hand in the form of this advance, even though we never asked for an advance and in fact declined an advance each time it was offered.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Urban Camping

It’s been something like twelve weeks since I’ve slept in my own bed.

Until tonight. Tonight we’re camping in our own home. No electricity. No heat.

It’s a mild night in New Orleans.

Scrabble by Candlelight

So it’s Scrabble by candlelight, scotch neat, battery-operated television and an early bedtime for us.

It’s kind of spooky here. No lights in any direction for blocks. No people at all, as far as we can tell.

Our cats appreciate the company.

Electric Termites

As I’ve done more demolition on the lower floor of our home, I’ve discovered the termite damage is a bit more extensive than I’d thought.

Termite Damage

I’d been thinking something like 15 studs would need to be replaced or reinforced. I figured I could do that myself. My electrician advised me to get it done before his crew goes to work.

But now I’ve found there’s termite damage not just to the studs but also to the top plate. I would describe the damage as severe, but not extensive.

Still, it’s more than I can handle on my own. Replacing the top plate involves propping up the second story with supports, and the consequences of doing it wrong could be disasterous.

And maybe it’s not worth fixing at all. This is pre-Katrina damage, after all. We lived with it for years, and the house appears to be sturdy.

In any event, I will leave that determination — and the work itself — to a professional.

I talked to my electrician and came up with a new plan: We will restore power to the upper floor only, for now. That will allow us to live in the house and to take our time fixing the lower floor.

That way I don’t have to rush. We can take the time to do it right.

Say What?

A fire broke out at the local A&P yesterday, and the store was still closed today. So I went to the Sav-A-Center on Tchoupitoulas to buy ingredients for curried tomato bisque.

Wow. All registers were open, yet the lines were so long that they extened into the grocery ailses. The wait was so long I had to bust out a beverage from my cart.

In fact, the wait was so long that I had time to call Fidelity insurance and check the status of our flood claim. Understand, you’ve gotta wait on hold forever before you can talk to a live human being.

But when the guy told me they were cutting a check for 80-odd thousand dollars, I nearly dropped my phone.

How could it be that much? Even if it includes the homeowner’s settlement — which it shouldn’t — and the contents claim — which it shouldn’t — 80K seems like too much.

This has me worried, because my understanding is that if your house is damaged beyond 50% of its value, you have to elevate the whole thing above the floodplain. I don’t know what to make of it.

Why New Orleans Matters and What You Can Do About It

Lately I’ve been posting about my personal experiences post-Katrina. I haven’t written much about the “big picture.” But if you care about me and Xy I hope you are also interested in the larger issues at stake.

Here are two glimpes of that bigger picture.

  1. Last night we went to a book reading. Seems a guy named Tom Piazza has written a book called Why New Orleans Matters. He wrote it very quickly in the month after Katrina.

    The bookstore was packed, standing room only, and there weren’t enough copies of the book to go around. But to judge by the portions the author read, it’s a damn good book, worth a read by anyone who cares about New Orleans.

    It would be even better if people who don’t care about New Orleans were to read it.

    It seems like a lot of people don’t “get” New Orleans. I barely do myself after having lived here for six years. It’s such a unique place, so different from other American cities, that I think it can be difficult for Americans to understand and appreciate.

    This book attempts to articulate just why New Orleans is important — why it matters. I hope people get the message.

    So buy a copy, read it, and then give it to someone powerful and influential.

  2. This morning, the Times-Picayune published an impassioned editorial on their front page. It is a plea similar to the one I tacked on to my recent letter to the people of Bloomington, only much more eloquent.

    Please give it a read and take some action. We really need people from outside this area to voice their support. So please pass this link on to friends and family around the nation.

Camaraderie & Thievery

Xy and I had a great breakfast at Slim Goodie’s. We were talking with an Irish grandma (with brogue!) and her daughter and baby granddaughter, and an African-American guy at the next table, praising his Mexican-American neighbor for helping fix up his house and reminiscing about his childhood home which was all but destroyed by Hurricane Betsy and dreaming of opening a comedy club here someday.

This is how I’d like to imagine the future of New Orleans: full of interesting and friendly people of all races.

Then we headed back into the Dead Zone. I understand our zip code was offically “opened” on Monday, but I’m not sure what that means.

We spent the day on the cleanup of our house. We paid particular attention to getting the debris cleared away from in front. Now it looks like someone is actually living there again.

The first thing Xy looked for yesterday was her little portable battery-operated radio/television. But she couldn’t find it, and she was convinced someone had broken in and stolen it.

I was skeptical, since there was little evidence of anything being disturbed. But today we discovered some more items that are missing: batteries (for the radio/tv) and canned catfood.

Also, Xy’s pink robe and our bath towels have disappeared.

So it appears someone did enter and take some things, probably in the days immediately after Katrina. They didn’t take much. If they needed these things, more power to ‘em. I wish them well.

Home Again in the Wounded City

We are home again. We got no electricity, half our house is in ruins, and we’re staying on a friend’s futon, but we’re home again.

Xy is a little shaken up, understandably, but for the most part she’s taking it in stride.

As for our cats, they’re spending the night in their own house for the first time in two and a half months. And it’s cold, and there’s no heat. I hope they’re not too uncomfortable. I hope there’s some mouse-hunting going down soon.

Grenada

There were snow flurries when we departed Indiana this morning. Yikes. Looks like we’re getting out while the getting is good.

We are renting a second car for this trip, just for the sake of getting all our crap back home. I’m driving the rental; Xy has the cats with her.

This arrangement provides an unexpected advantage: It is actually much less stressful for Xy and I to be in separate vehicles.

For example, there was no one to bitch at me when I missed the exit to I-55 near Sikeston, Missouri, and only realized it 25 miles later.

Now we’re holed up in Grenada, Mississippi, for the evening, watching Hard Target on Spike TV. I’m no fan of Jean Claude van Damme, but anyone familiar with this flick will understand the strange fascination it holds for us.

Letter to the People of Bloomington

Just submitted this letter to the Herald-Times:

My wife and I sought refuge in Bloomington some ten weeks ago when we evacuated New Orleans. The community here has been both gracious and generous. It’s hardly been a vacation, but the people of Bloomington have made our stay here as pleasant as possible.

As we prepare to return to New Orleans permanently, our thoughts are on the future. There is much to be done to restore our property, to get our lives in order and to rebuild our city.

Before we leave, we wanted to express our gratitude to all the people of Bloomington. It’s impossible to thank all the individuals who have helped us, but I did want to mention three organizations: Family Solutions, Harmony School and the Beth Shalom Jewish Community Center were very generous in donating supplies and cash, which I delivered to the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans.

Common Ground is still in need of supplies and volunteers. More information can be found at their website, commongroundrelief.org.

There is one more thing we might ask of your readers. Please, contact your congressional representatives and let them know that you support the fullest federal commitment to the rebuilding of New Orleans.

We’re taking off. See y’all in the funny pages!

Rainington, Tornadiana

It started raining last night around sundown. Kept raining all night long and into the morning. It rained all day. Sometimes hard, sometimes hardly at all, but more and more and more rain, until I’m thinking they should change the name of this town to Rainington.

Meanwhile we’re packing up, getting ready to go.

I drove from Bloomington to Monrovia to return my parents card table. The day has been spent on tasks such as this.

We decided to rent a second car for the trip back. Whilst picking it up at the Budget Rental Depot, it started to rain more furiously than ever.

And then the sirens started to go off. A tornado is headed our way at 60 mph.

I stop by the Monroe County Public Library to pick up a tape. Uniformed people with walkie talkies are at the door. “We’re under a tornado warning, sir. You’re welcome to come in, but you’ll have to go to go downstairs.”

So I went downstairs. Everybody in the whole damn library was there, in CATS. They wouldn’t let us out until the danger of the tornado was past.

For a brief moment, I was kind of choked up.

Meanwhile, a guy named Lee was delivering a DVD set of the first six episodes of ROX to our house. He was sitting out in his car waiting for me, and of course a car isn’t the best place to be if a tornado hits. Fortunately he had the good sense to drop the DVDs in our mailbox and get out of there.

So it looks as though our stay here has been bookended by severe weather: a hurricane brought us here and a tornado decided to see us off.

Stoptional

This morning I had a delicious breakfast at the Runcible Spoon with Ron Osgood and Thom Gillespie.

Afterwards, I blew a stop sign at 4th & Dunn. I don’t know if I was tired or fiddling with the radio or what. I just didn’t see the sign.

The good news is that this screw-up didn’t result in a traffic accident. The bad news is that there was a cop right behind me.

When he saw my Louisiana driver’s license with the New Orleans address, and I explained that I was headed back there in two days, I thought maybe I’d catch a break.

Not so. He wrote me a citation, or a “complaint” as it says on the paperwork, for an “infraction.”

He didn’t have a fine schedule for me, so I had to call the Monroe Circuit Court to learn what I owe: $113.50.

I wanted to go right down there and pay cash, but the clerk told me the officer’s paperwork won’t be processed for a couple weeks, so it looks like I’ll have to mail a money order from New Orleans.

Instant SF

For over four years I’ve been attending monthly meetings of the Octavia Books Science Fiction Club. I was there at the first meeting in the summer of 2001 and I’ve never missed a meeting since.

Until today, for our first meeting post-Katrina. And even so, I was kind of halfway there. I had a virtual presence via instant messaging.

I’ve never done the instant thing before — didn’t see much need for it. But this seemed like an appropriate application of the technology.

And it worked pretty well. I was chatting back and forth with my friend Scott, the other old-timer of the group, and he relayed the jist of what was going on and what people had to say about the book we’d read (The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson).

Of course there were some glitches. The client I installed on my Crackberry yesterday wasn’t working today. I think their server is down.

Luckily I was able to use Jaylene’s Sidekick II. She has Yahoo Messenger installed. So I was able to sit in her apartment kitchen here in Indianapolis in my underwear drinking instant coffee and participating in a conversation a thousand miles away.

And that felt good.

Interchange

After we evacuated from New Orleans, I did a short interview on WFHB. When I made my first trip back to New Orleans, the city was still officially closed, and WFHB gave me a press pass. I did a longer interview when I got back, a full hour, for a program called Interchange.

It aired last night. To my surprise, I didn’t sound like a complete and total idiot — just a partial idiot.

You can download the program in MP3 format. But keep in mind this was recorded, like, a month ago. So much has changed since then.

Here’s the description from the WFHB News site:

11/8/05 – News Director Chad Carrothers spends an hour with former Bloomingtonian Bart Everson, who now calls New Orleans home…or at least he did until Hurricane Katrina forced him and his wife Christy Paxson, an Ellettsville native, to flee the “Big Easy” just before its utter destruction. In the first segment, Everson recalls his evacuation from New Orleans and timely escape back to Bloomington, where he finds a warm welcome yet worries about friends and neighbors who weren’t quite so lucky. In segment two, Everson comments on current ground relief efforts, including his own recent expedition back home to New Orleans to deliever material aid and survey the damage to his home and neighborhood. In our third segment, Everson ponders the fate of both his family and all families who bore the brunt of Katrina.

People often ask me if I’m “sick of talking about” our lives and the situation on the Gulf Coast post-Katrina, usually after they’ve been grilling me for a few minutes. I’m not sick of it, though Xy finds it wearing. Quite the opposite. I feel it’s important to talk about it. And it takes practice to learn to articulate.

Logistics

Just as the rebuilding of New Orleans is a puzzle, so are the logistics of our return trip, albeit on a much humbler scale.

It seems I “rescued” a few too many items from our home in New Orleans. I should have left them there. Instead, I brought them to Bloomington, and now we have to figure how to get it all back. It’s just too much to fit in our compact Saturn.

We could rent another vehicle, but that seems way too expensive.

We could rent a trailer, but we’d have to install a hitching post, and again it seems like overkill.

We could get a cartop carrier, but we don’t have a luggage rack, and I’m nervous about these “clip” fasteners. Plus, I’m not even sure where you buy this sort of thing.

We could ship the stuff separately, but I’m not sure about the current state of shipping services in New Orleans.

We could have someone here in Bloomington hold it for shipping later. That seems like the best option, but it would mean imposing upon someone here — most likely Xy’s mom.

We’ll figure it out eventually, of course, but in the meantime — what a headache!

Waiting for Payouts

Just talked to Roland Graybill, our flood adjuster. He assured me that he completed our claims last week. It’s just a matter of waiting for Fidelity, our insurer, to cut us a check. Then things will get really complicated, because our mortgage company wants to put the money in escrow and dole it out piecemeal as repairs are completed.

Mr. Graybill said I should allow a couple weeks yet for the checks to arrive, because “that’s just how long it’s taking.”