Good News/Bad News

Good news: A recent survey indicates three-quarters of the greater New Orleans population has returned.

Bad news: The same survey says the city itself (Orleans Parish) is only at 41% of its pre-storm population. Worse, another survey indicates one-third of people here are planning to leave within the next couple years.

Good news: Hurricane season is officially over today, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as predicted, certainly nothing like the 2005 season.

Bad news: The experts say we’re still in an active period that will last at least another decade, maybe two, maybe more. The 2006 season was made weak, they say, by El Niño and dust storms in the Sahara, which may not be a factor next season.

Good news: Mike Kaplan came to my house Monday and gave it a quick tour. We talked about the electrical and other work to be done. He was very reassuring and said they’d start work the next day.

Bad news: They didn’t make it to our house Tuesday. I don’t think they made it Wednesday either, but maybe they did — I’ve been too busy to check.

More bad news: Xy discovered she had a flat tire this morning. She was already running late, so she decided to call a cab.

Good news: Just then, a taxi came cruising down our street. She hopped right in and made it to school on time.

More good news: We got a lemon tree.

A Lemon Tree on North Salcedo

Slated for Demolition?

3319-21 Iberville Street [map]

Slated for Demolition?

This building has been proposed for demolition by FEMA. Since it’s in a historic district (Mid-City, my neighborhood) FEMA is “requesting the aid of the public in identifying alternatives to demolition.”

But how can we provide any such suggestions if we don’t know why the owner has requested demolition? The house appears to be in decent shape from the outside. Of course it was flooded, but so were all homes in the neighborhood. Perhaps the owner can’t afford to renovate?

Of course I’m only assuming the owner initiated the request. I’m not actually sure where the request originated. The notice from FEMA says that “the City of New Orleans has determined that many of the buildings severely damaged by the hurricanes are an imminent threat to public health and safety” and lists this as one of the buildings. The corner grocery that hasn’t been cleaned since the flood is not listed. The gov’t can be confusing sometimes.

Anyway, it doesn’t look like an “imminent threat to public health and safety” at first glance, but what do I know? I didn’t want to snoop too much on someone else’s property.

I don’t like the idea of tearing down old buildings that seem to be in decent shape. If this one goes, why not the whole block?

One of These Houses

They also say “For a list of the property addresses and to suggest specific alternatives to demolition, visit www.crt.state.la.us/culturalassets/fema106 (also listed below). This information will be accepted for a 15-day period beginning on November 30, 2006.”

Maybe I’ll check back in a couple days and post a comment. But what sort of “specific alternative to demolition” might I propose? How about, I don’t know, renovation? Is that specific enough? FEMA say: “Alternative proposals should include a source of funding for stabilization and/or repairs and the timeframe required to accomplish these actions.” Well, there are some grants available for historic hurricane damaged properties. Maybe I’ll suggest one of those. I’m just thinking out loud here.

Update: I posted the following comment on FEMA’s website:

I would like to suggest an alternative to demolition for 3319-21 Iberville Street, New Orleans LA 70119.

The specific alternative I would like to suggest is: renovation. As a source of funding for renovation, I’d like to suggest the Historic Building Recovery Grant Program. I believe this house would be eligible.

More info at
http://www.crt.state.la.us/hp/HBGrants.htm

Also, the owner should feel free to contact the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization if he or she needs help figuring out alternatives to demolition. Their website is at http://mcno.org/

This house is part of the distinctive housing stock of a national historic district. Please don’t tear it down.

Of course, I make this comment without full awareness of any structural problems the house may have. I merely observed from the street (I live two blocks away) that it looks to be in pretty good shape.

Update: I got the following message from FEMA on January 24th:

Mr. Everson,

Thank you for your response to our Public Notice Regarding Historic Review of Privately-Owned Residential Buildings Proposed for Demolition in Orleans Parish, Louisiana – Buildings Eligible for Listing on the National Register, posted on 11/30/2006. We appreciate your comments regarding suggested alternatives to demolition of 3319-21 Iberville Street, New Orleans, LA 70119. You will be pleased to learn that FEMA has removed this property from our demolition list, and it is therefore no longer part of our undertaking. We still encourage you to contact the property owner to either purchase the property or to advocate for the property’s renovation, as the building is considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource to a historic district. Your suggestion of the Historic Building Grant Program as a source of funding can be pursued by the property owner if the program’s application deadline has not yet passed.

We sincerely appreciate your comments and suggestions. In carrying out our responsibilities under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, FEMA partners with the public and with preservation advocacy groups to identify alternatives to demolition and/or ways to mitigate the adverse effect caused by the demolition of historic properties. We encourage you to contact the Preservation Resource Center (PRC) for assistance with contacting the property owner and lobbying the owner to consider renovating the property. The PRC can be reached at: www.prcno.org or (504) 581-7032.

Sincerely,

Kathryn

Kathryn St. Clair
FEMA Historic Preservation Specialist

How’s the House Coming Along?

There’s a question that dogs me these days, everywhere I go. Everyone wants to know the same thing: “How’s the house coming along?”

My answer is always the same: It’s not coming along at all, really. No one’s done any real work on our house for months. We are living in half our house and basically pretending the other half doesn’t exist. My virtual buddy from Bloomington, Lee the Magic Man, asks, “Is it getting close?” No, it’s not anywhere near close. I wish it was.

I don’t begrudge people asking about the house. I just wish I could gripe in response, but I can’t because if ever I do complain, inevitably the person I’m talking to has a sadder story than me. Mike swears he’s going to have someone here on Monday to start rewiring. And of course I believe him. After all, I ate Thanksgiving dinner at his house. We’re practically family.

Editor B Gives Thanx

Xy flew up to Indiana to visit her family. I stayed here in New Orleans because, frankly, I had enough of Indiana during my evacuation to last me a while. I think this is the first Thanksgiving Xy and I haven’t spent together in thirteen years or so. Nevertheless it was a festive holiday. I went to Mike Kaplan’s house. Last year I also had Thanksgiving dinner at Mike’s, but Xy was there, and it was just the three of us, in the middle of a ghost town. This year, a dozen or more guests, and the surrounding neighborhood shows some signs of life.

The crowd there ranged from 2 1/2 to 70 years of age, folks from Brooklyn and Mexico and Texas and Spain. Mostly it was Mike’s crew, some of whom have worked on our house already and some who are slated to start on our house Monday (knock wood). These guys came to New Orleans for the work, so they will probably be here for at least a decade.

I give thanks to all the workers who have come to rebuild New Orleans. Sure, they’re in it for the money, not the love, but we sure need the help and they sure work hard. On Thanksgiving morning my neighborhood was ringing with the sound of hammers and saws, just like most days.

But damn, Mike does have a talent for hiring psychopaths.

Proto-Borat

Back in the late 80s, when I was just getting interested in video production, I shot some stuff at the County Line Mall in Indianapolis with my friend, Butt. (Yes, yes, that’s his real name, his last name. I will refrain from telling his first name in order to spare him potential Google embarrassment.) He’s from Pakistan, and he was one of the first people I met at Indiana University.

We thought it would be funny to go to the shopping mall and interview people as if Butt was a journalist from Pakistan. We hoped we might draw out some unintentionally hilarious comments from American mall-goers. The results were disappointing. For one thing, we could barely figure out how to operate the camera. For another, people were a bit nicer than we expected and we ended up feeling like assholes.

Warning: The following video clip is neither funny nor particularly interesting, and is provided for the sole purpose of making a point.

(This video ended up being featured in Milk ‘Em All, which was one of the first videos I ever edited, using my parents’ VCR.)

I’m posting this mall Butt video only because the movie Borat (in theaters now) seemed vaguely familiar to me, and I finally realized why. Foreign pseudo-journalist attempting to make fools of Middle Americans? Yes, we did it first, almost twenty years earlier. Sascha Baron Whatshisname ripped us off!

Update: It should be further noted that I haven’t actually seen Borat and thus don’t know what I’m talking about and might reasonably be classified as an idiot.

Smoke Signals

Yesterday a store in the Carrollton Shopping Center caught fire.

Smoke

My office is across the street. My co-worker Janice noticed the smoke first, but thought her glasses were dirty. After she cleaned the lenses and the haze was still there, she asked me if they were sending up smoke signals over there. When I saw what was going on I grabbed the phone to sound the alarm, but just at that moment firetrucks appeared. They seemed to get it under control pretty quickly.

On the news they reported that the fire seemed to have been started by someone taking refuge from the cold. Another co-worker told me that the stores have not been gutted or secured since the flood.

More Guerrilla Art in Mid-City

Spotted this morning on the way to work on the Jeff Davis neutral ground:

Art Installation

It’s a pitcher full of water suspended above a map of Louisiana made of sand.

Pitcher on a Wire

Louisiana Sand

A strange, elegant, and disturbing metaphor for our current situation.

I have no idea who’s behind this. Could it be the same person (or people) who put up the flood marker? Whoever it is, I salute you.

Update: Thanks to Courtney Egan for revealing that this is a project of Art in Action! This specific piece is Site #6, “O Water!” by Jonathan Traviesa, the same guy who put photos on Bayou St. John a year ago. You can read about the installation or, if you’re in New Orleans, you can go down to Jeff Davis and D’Hemecourt and see it yourself. It was still there this morning.

Jonathan Traviesa, I salute you.

Celebrity Smackdown

Jimmy Pardo just read my list of annoying people on his weekly podcast. Er, pardon me, it’s a “Pardcast.” Check out Episode 33 — the fun begins about 27 minutes into the program. They rake me over the coals pretty well, and I gotta admit I have it coming. “All the insight of bad stand-up comedy without any of the punch lines.” Ouch.

The kicker, of course, is the final person on my list, who is none other than Mr. Pardo himself. Ahem. The mystery of that weird e-mail I got from the “Jimmy Pardo Fan Club” is revealed at last. I may be the only person who finds this hilarious. I don’t know.

His co-hosts confirm what we’ve feared all along: that the guy on “Movies at Our House” is pretty close to the real Jimmy Pardo. I shudder to think of it, but I guess I should be grateful. After watching Jimmy Pardo, my wife thinks she didn’t marry so poorly after all. So thanks, Jimmy, for setting the bar lower.

And big props to Mr. Wesley for the heads-up.

Tribute to America

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to present a temporary art installation which I like to call “A Tribute to America.”

Tribute to America

On trash day, if we’re lucky, the garbage truck comes around and the collectors dump our cans in the truck and leave them lying on the street. There they stay all day until I come home from work and put them back by our house.

Whenever I see these empty garbage cans, I think of America.

You see, America Gonzales used to live next door to us. She was in her late 80s, a Cuban woman who spoke nary a word of English. She could often be seen puttering around in her nightshirt, toothless but still active. She took it upon herself to haul our empty cans back from the curb to keep the neighborhood orderly.

America lived with her son, Jose Gonzales. He is still in the neighborhood but now he lives a few blocks from us. He told me that America died a few months after Katrina, while she was still evacuated. Like many folks, especially older folks, the stresses and strains of that time took their toll. She was almost 90 at the time, a ripe old age to be sure, but who knows how long she might have lived if the levees and floodwalls hadn’t failed?

So when I see the garbage cans lying empty on the street, I think of America, and I get a little misty-eyed.

I’m Back

I took two weeks off. During that time I barely left Orleans Parish, except for a couple errands. I rode my bike into Metairie via Veteran’s Boulevard. Don’t ever try that; you’re taking your life into your own hands with the traffic and the lack of any provision for bicycles. Mostly, I spent most of my time at home or in the surrounding few blocks.

And yet, despite my geographical stasis, this was an odyssey of epic proportions. A spiritual odyssey. Hell, that trip to Metairie felt like an epic journey, but that’s a story for another day. I encountered a broken lamp post on Veteran’s Boulevard:

Broken Streetlamp

It was an icon of things to come. The whole excursion to the suburbs was really only a prelude to a descent into the Abyss of the Self. I feel like I’ve been torn down and put back together over the past fifteen days.

I’ve heard plenty about the stresses we’re under here, how we’re all on edge in this devastated region, how our mental health is fragile. Personally, though, I’ve felt pretty good. After all, only half our house was destroyed, we didn’t lose any loved ones, we still have our jobs, we are actually living in our home, we had adequate insurance coverage and no real hassles with our insurer, we are working with a contractor we know and trust to renovate our home, and our neighborhood appears to be coming back in some form. In short, we count ourselves lucky. And happy. And healthy.

And yet. Since returning to New Orleans I’ve been extraordinarily busy, not just at work, but going to all sorts of neighborhood and community meanings. Everything around here is broken, and it all needs to be fixed simultaneously, so the impulse is to pour all one’s heart and soul into every aspect of rebuilding. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are living in very weird, stressful, screwed up circumstances. By keeping so busy, might we be neglecting our own psychic needs? Could it be a form of escapism, a way of not having to deal with reality?

Of course, civic over-involvement is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other escape strategies. Case in point, on my way back from that ill-advised bike ride, I stopped for lunch at the Bulldog on Canal Boulevard. Two guys came in and ordered a pair of Irish Car Bombs with beer chasers. They had to drink ‘em fast to get back to work.

I’ve been doing things like that too, though not quite as extreme. Yet these escapes may not be effective. They may not be escapes at all, but dead ends, traps.

Lakewood Corner

Without time to pause and reflect, who’s to say?

In retrospect it feels like that is what my “vacation” was really about. I took some time off from most of my daily routines and gave myself some room for reflection, contemplation, rumination, and other Latinate words that end with “-tion.”

What I found was not always pretty. There’s a lot of weird, stressful, screwed up stuff going on inside. I think this became most evident when I engaged in a creative writing project of sorts: I decided to spend a little time each morning writing down my dreams. Not the dreams I had when I was asleep, mind you, (though I did keep a dream journal back in the early ’90s) but waking dreams, daydreams, the thoughts and fantasies and speculations running through my head. Most of my writing lately has gone into very straightforward journaling (like this blog) and I thought it would be good to spend some time writing down my dreams instead. But I was surprised at how dark and depressing these dreams turned out to be. I’ve always had a morbid streak, but damn. The fear of aging and death and dying kept coming up again and again.

Again, twisted dreams are just the tip of the iceberg. Aside from these writing experiments I had some plain-old blues. And (mild) anxiety attacks. And sleepless nights. And so forth. Changing up my routine brought a lot of personal issues to the surface. These aren’t Katrina issues per se, not for me anyway. A lot of it is good old-fashioned existential angst, the dues we pay for being alive. But Katrina has provided many excuses to let these issues fester and take on a decidedly unpleasant odor.

I was surprised, but not shocked. Any journey into the Self is bound to have some difficult twists and turns. Of course, recognizing fears and problems is the first step to confronting them. These developments were incredibly positive in my mind. Yes, there are cracks in my foundation, fissures in the edifice of my soul, but I’m working on it.

A cautionary note to my fellow travelers: Make sure you deal with this stuff before it deals with you. The holidays are approaching and stress levels will be on the rise. Don’t forget to attend to your spiritual well-being, whatever that entails.

Lest this all seems too too heavy and hopelessly confused, here’s some other things from my vacation:

  • Halloween:

    Dry Ice

    We had maybe eight or ten kids come by, and one even wore a costume. Xy got some dry ice (from the local Airgas) for a science lesson at school, then brought the leftovers home for spooky yet educational experiments on our front porch.

  • Alexis and Loki’s wedding was the coolest.

    Alexis and Loki

    (photo by Maitri)

    The highlight for me was hearing Sandra Dolby sing. You can hear some of her music here, unfortunately limited to 30 second samples from a CD that appears to be sold out, but it gives a notion of how haunting and beautiful her voice and guitar are. The CD is for her mother, but the songs at the wedding were for her daughter, who just happens to be Alexis.

  • I voted.
  • I took Milo and Biggs to the vet.

    Boxed

    They didn’t like being boxed up, but they were extraordinarily well-behaved when they got there.

  • I spent five hours at the Saturn dealership on the West Bank while they worked on our car. At least it gave me time to finish up Justina Robson’s Living Next Door to the God of Love.
  • I went to some planning and community meetings. Yes, even on vacation. I can’t stop myself. I told you I had issues. In fact they seemed to ramp up to two a night instead of just one.

    Milwaukee's Finest

    At one meeting I heard John Norquist extol the virtues of tearing down inner city interstates. (But at least the Monday night Mid-City Recovery Planning meetings have come to an end.)

  • I cleaned up my home office and rearranged our living room. Doesn’t sound like much, but the mess in my office was years in the making. Cleaning that up was a spiritual experience in and of itself. But like most profound spiritual experiences, it’s totally boring to anyone else but fascinating to me.
  • I visited Xy’s school and videotaped some girls doing a song they wrote to send to a class in New York City… it’s a long story, but I’ll post the video eventually, when it’s edited. What was really cool was I got to see Xy teaching and she is definitely at the top of her game.
  • I went to see Mark Mothersbaugh‘s “Beautiful Mutants” show with MaPó at l’Art Noir in the Bywater.

And to round it all out, since I can no longer aspire to brevity, here’s the latest article on our renovation by Stephanie Bruno, which appeared in Saturday’s paper with a very nice photo.

WASHING AND WARMING AND WAITING
Saturday, November 11, 2006
By Stephanie Bruno
Contributing writer

NOTE: In the weeks since we have visited Bart Everson and Christy Paxson in their Mid-City home, work has been on hold while the couple’s trusted contractor completed other jobs. But the advent of windy, cooler nights finally prompted the couple to call, and now their contractor is poised to return.

At 6-foot-4, Bart Everson might seem like an unlikely candidate to enjoy tub baths. But one of his Top 10 criteria when shopping for a house with his wife, Christy Paxson, was a roomy claw-foot tub, and that’s one of the many advantages that the house on North Salcedo Street offered.

The house had a shower, too, but “our shower was in the basement, and that’s the area that filled with floodwaters,” Everson said. With work on repairing the couple’s downstairs living area suspended while contractor Mike Kaplan dealt with other clients’ needs, tub baths have been the only option.

“In fact, I prefer tub baths, but it depends on the season,” Everson said. “It’s been so long now since I’ve had a choice, I’ve almost forgotten. Oh, yes, it’s showers in the summer and baths in the winter. Slipping into a steaming tub of water on a hot summer day just isn’t that enjoyable.”

Everson contacted Kaplan recently and expects that work on the second bath as well as the guest room, laundry area and den, which also are downstairs, will soon resume.

“I know how busy Mike has been and how difficult it’s been to juggle jobs and help as many people as he could,” Everson said. “He’s like every other contractor in town in that he has also had to deal with an unstable labor force. So because our situation wasn’t as urgent as some others’, I held off calling him. I never doubted for a minute he’d be back sooner or later.”

“Sooner” started sounding a lot better than “later” a week or two ago, when a few windy cold fronts blew through town.

“At the time, there was no trim installed on the basement windows on the inside, so when the hard gusts ripped through, the windows would swing on their ropes and bang against the frames,” Everson said. “Let me tell you, it’s pretty spooky trying to sleep upstairs with those sudden loud crashes coming from the basement.”

The downstairs doors caused a similar problem. “They were in place but not secure, so this week I took vacation and have a list of things to get done on the house,” Everson said. “One was to buy knobs and deadbolts for the downstairs doors. We weren’t worried about the windows as a security risk, because they’re protected with sturdy burglar bars. But the doors needed attention, and now the new knobs and the dead bolts are in place, and we can sleep better at night.”

The couple has accepted a few more inconveniences while awaiting the return of their contractor. For one thing, their laundry area was in the basement, so they’ve been visiting the Laundromat since their return home last fall. For another, they have needed to use flashlights from time to time to see things upstairs in their living area.

“That’s because none of our ceiling lights work,” Everson said. “It’s not just a matter of bulbs, it’s the wiring. When Mike came last fall to work on the electrical and get us up and running, he worked from below to repair the wiring that goes to our base outlets and light switches upstairs. But the wiring for our overhead lights is all the old knob-and-tube, and we agreed it would be best to disconnect it from the system and then replace it. Without those overhead lights, it can get pretty dark upstairs, and sometimes flashlights are in order.”

Once Everson finally called Kaplan, the contractor committed to returning in a few weeks, which Everson translates as “after Thanksgiving,” a holiday Everson and Paxson plan to share with Kaplan and his wife.

On Kaplan’s return visit to the house, the wiring issues will be addressed and other critical items — like the freely swinging window sashes — tended to.

About the same time, Everson and Paxson expect to welcome to town their friend Joe Nickel [sic] from Missoula, Mont. Nickel is a journalist for the Missoula newspaper, a co-producer of Everson’s television show and also, as luck would have it, a tile setter.

“Joe is coming down to set the tile in our downstairs shower. We’ve been planning this ever since the storm, but now Joe’s wife is expecting, so he either comes now or it’s never.”

With the doors and windows secure, the contractor scheduled, and the tile setter almost en route, Everson has one more chore to tend to this week, a cleansing of sorts that he likens to a ritual.

“I’m going to clean the basement windows. It’s a little thing, but they are still covered in dirt that the flood waters left behind. I’m going to wash that all away.”

. . . . . . .

Stephanie Bruno can be reached at [email protected]

The picture for this article isn’t online, I don’t think, but it showed me washing one of the basement windows. It should be noted that I cleaned only one window, for the benefit of the photographer. Also, Mike isn’t married, and Xy will be visiting Bloomington for Thanksgiving. Also, J’s trip to New Orleans has been delayed until early January. And I’m proud to report they posted this article on the board at Bayou Coffee House.

Anyway, that was my vacation. Damn. Vacationing is hard work. So I’ve come back to the University for a while, just to give myself a break.