Ugly

Last night I stopped by the Parkway for a sandwich and a glass of wine, on my way to a meeting.

I sat at the bar near a woman who was celebrating her birthday with a cosmopolitan.

We got to talking — pleasant enough to start with. She asked me where I was from. Funny how some people latch on to my non-local accent first thing.

For her part, she was born and raised in New Orleans, and had a very distinctive local accent. She’d lived in California for 13 years but never lost the accent.

Now she was back in New Orleans, but looking to leave again. She complained about the crime and the corruption. She liked the place where she was living in Lakeview, where she said she felt safe, but she couldn’t really afford it.

She kept complaining about how bad everything is here in New Orleans, and how the city is not coming back, and so forth.

Finally I observed that the city certainly will not come back if we just sit around and wait for someone else to do it. It’s up to us, I said.

“You’re just saying that because you’re from Indiana,” she said. I couldn’t possibly fathom the depth of the problems here in New Orleans because I didn’t grow up here.

And then it came out: The fundamental thing that disturbed her the most was the black people coming back. That was soon followed by a racial epithet. She mentioned that she graduated in 1967, just before the schools were integrated, so at least she didn’t have to go to school with them.

I took issue. But every time I disagreed or expressed a different view, she said it was because I was from Indiana.

Finally I said, “When I came back after the storm to rebuild my flooded house, I never dreamed anyone would tell me I’m not a New Orleanian. I consider myself a New Orleanian. There are people here from all over the world. I wasn’t born and raised here, but I’ve lived here for eight years. I’m forty now, so that’s one-fifth of my life. And sure, maybe I see things a little differently because I grew up in Indiana. But you know what, maybe that’s a good thing.”

I tried to challenge her bitter complacency, her racism, and the many points upon which we seemed to disagree. I also tried to maintain a civil and friendly conversation, even with a sense of humor. It’s extremely hard to change people’s convictions. I know that, and I doubt I changed hers.

When I was finished eating, I wished her a happy birthday and left for my meeting with an ugly taste in my mouth — and it wasn’t from the oyster po-boy.

B Stupid Cops a Plea

I read in the paper last weekend that B-Stupid copped a plea.

B-Stupid

In exchange for pleading guilty in federal court Thursday to drug-trafficking and gun crimes and his agreement in state court that he was involved with a friend’s murder, a 22-year-old New Orleans man will face a possible sentence of 25 years instead of life, according to federal prosecutors.

Following his 2006 arrest in Kenner on a fugitive warrant, Ivory Brandon “B-Stupid” Harris called his associates from jail asking them to try to track down the witness who had fingered him in the Fat Tuesday 2006 slaying of Jermaine “Manny” Wise, the prosecutors said in documents handed to the judge.

I work with Manny’s mother, Donna. I wondered what she thought about all this. She was out Monday and Tuesday, and I figured maybe she was upset by the news. But today when I talked to her she said the deal is fine by her. After all, the witness had to be moved three times already — who knows how much longer she could have held out, especially as B Stupid was trying to discover her identity for presumably nefarious purposes.

Donna says she plans to speak at the sentencing hearing.

Good Neighbors

It was good to see a letter from my neighbor on the editorial page of the Times-Picayune this weekend. (Note: The “Good Neighbor Program” started off as a city ordinance that dictated storm damaged homes must to be gutted and secured one year after Katrina. We are now approaching the two-year mark.)

Not such a Good Neighbor
Sunday, June 24, 2007

What is going on with the Good Neighbor program?

As a long-term property owner and investor in Orleans Parish, I am very concerned.

My neighbor’s abandoned property at 3920-3922 Bienville Street has a rodent problem. I have reported this property, and other neglected properties owned by the same person, to the Good Neighbor program on numerous occasions without result.

Prior to the storm the properties were already in bad condition. The owner is a very hands-off type of landlord. The houses were boarded up a few months ago; I do not believe they have been gutted.

The owner says he has no desire to renovate the properties and does not care to sell. Regardless of how hard we try to renovate and move forward, it is extremely difficult when you live next to a biohazard.

Our home is to be our place of retirement and long-term commitment to Orleans Parish and Mid-City.

I would sincerely appreciate the same commitment from my representatives as well.

Christina Sorrels-Guillot
New Orleans

But wait, there’s more! Not one but two letters on this subject.

Why isn’t program enforced?
Sunday, June 24, 2007

It is difficult to express my frustration level with the Good Neighbor program. The New Orleans City Council passes these recovery programs and the city does not enforce them.

The old Avenue Sandwich shop on City Park Avenue burned many months ago. The roof is being held up by a single 2×4. Worse, this is a bus stop used by Delgado students. Many times when I pass there someone is leaning against the board.

Surely someone owns this building, and one would think that the city could apply pressure or simply take the initiative to tear the place down. Do we have to wait for some unsuspecting student to be injured or killed?

Additionally, there are hundreds, if not thousands of homes in the neighborhoods that have not been gutted or closed up. There is no incentive for the neighbors to invest money to fix their own homes, therefore no recovery.

James M. Taylor
New Orleans

And here’s a letter sent today from the Vice-President of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization to a city official.

Ms. Addkison,

As Vice President of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, I attended the Mayor’s Town Hall meeting for our area, along with many of my neighbors, back on March 17, 2007. At the urging of your office, neighbors compiled the attached list of the 14 worst-offending properties in Mid-City with regard to imminent danger of collapse and health hazards. These properties were initially reported to the Good Neighbor Program, many of them in mid-September 2006 following a detailed survey of the neighborhood.

This list was initially sent to Patricia Robinson on March 23, 2007. Our first follow-up email, dated April 16, was prompted by the collapse of one of the properties. The next follow-up email was May 16, while the debris pile from the April collapse still was blocking the sidewalk and part of the street. The most recent follow-up email on June 11, 2007 finally produced a phone message from Mr. Winston Reid. However, on the occasions when I have called the number that Mr. Reid left (915-0092), the recording says that the number cannot receive messages and nobody returns my page.

Many of our concerned Mid-City residents have recently contacted your office, the Mayor’s office, Councilmembers, and the media regarding this ongoing problem with the failure of the Good Neighbor Program. It seems that in most of the responses, there is no clear action on the part of the city.

I am providing you with the chain of emails, on-going for more than 90 days. As a neighborhood that is more than 60% populated, with neighbors daily making a decision whether or not to return and/or to rebuild their homes, these dangerous properties weigh heavily in their decisions.

I ask you on behalf of the residents of Mid-City to provide us with a clear plan and timeline for when these most dangerous properties will be dealt with. Mid-City neighbors stand ready to assist the City in any way possible to address these issues, we only need your leadership to begin.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Weishaupt
Vice President
Mid-City Neighborhood Organization

I applaud my neighbors for doing what they can to bring attention to this issue. Irresponsible property owners and ineffective government conspire to hold us back. But we need to think carefully about what we want the solution to look like. I don’t trust government or business to solve this problem alone. But the community working with government and business might be able to get something done. We need to start exploring other models.

Nader Again?

It seems Ralph Nader is contemplating another run for the White House. I remember when he sought the Green Party’s endorsement in 2004. (He didn’t get it, by the way. I should know, because I was there.) Anyway, back in 2004 his supporters pitched his candidacy as “one last run.” I guess it’s hard to stay on the sidelines when the country is going down the toilet, but Bloomberg seems to be the independent to watch.

Mirror

Last night I had one of those intricate, mind-blowing dreams that seems to go on forever in vivid detail, complete with dreams within the dream. I couldn’t begin to recount the whole thing, which has faded from my memory anyhow, but there’s one compact vignette that was particularly striking. I was lying on our couch looking at a large mirror on the coffee table. Somehow I broke off one edge of the mirror. It lost its reflectivity, becoming clear like glass. Then it turned soft like Saran Wrap, and it covered my mouth and smothered me.

Shards of Mirror

Then I woke up — in the dream. Later, at a party (but still in the dream), I recounted this dream sequence to a woman and she gasped. Later, in what appears to be the so-called “waking world,” I recounted the dream of the mirror to Xy, and she gasped in the same way as the woman at the party. I think I’m awake now, but who knows?

Two Events

On Thursday, Xy and I went on down to Spanish Plaza, caught the tail end of Dennis Quaid and the Sharks and watched The Big Easy on the big screen. (I wrote about this event in advance, but remember, I am not a marketing tool.) It was fun in a cheesy way. As Chris Martel so aptly explains, bad is the new good.

It was interesting to see the film again now that I live here in New Orleans. The one thing I hear most locals cite against this flick is the accents. Anyone familiar with the area will have a hard time getting past the fact that virtually every New Orleanian in the film speaks with a bad Cajun accent. You don’t have to go far from the city to find people who talk like that (sort of), but it’s quite rare in the city itself. It’s disconcerting to hear people talking with a country accent in what’s supposed to be a gritty urban drama. But it dawned on me that I never realized that when I watched this in 1999, before I moved here, and in fact most of the country wouldn’t know or care that the accents are wrong. The rest of the country just knows people talk funny down there. Honestly, The Big Easy has many problems that are bigger than the accents. They are merely symptomatic of a general sloppiness. It’s a pretty weak film, but like the event itself — sort of fun in a cheesy way if you don’t take it too seriously.

On Saturday we attended the annual ritual of St. John’s Eve on Bayou St. John, which is performed by La Source Ancienne Ounfo.

Bridge Full

Ritual

The crowd was big enough that it was hard to see what was going on, and since I don’t know much about Vodoun, the whole thing left me and Xy and her visiting parents rather mystified. We arrived late and left early but still observed a good hour and half of ritual chanting. At least my in-laws got a good story to take back to Indiana.

There is actually a tenuous connection between these two events. The footbridge where the ritual takes place is also featured in The Big Easy. Ellen Barkin jogs across it and then gets harassed by a cop.

Well, it seemed significant when I started writing this.

Mass Demolition

Hmmm… looks like a certain university is aiming to demolish a whole neighborhood. Well, not quite, but 21 houses.

Housing Conservation District Review Committee
Agenda
10 a.m. June 25, 2007
Room 7E07, 7th Floor, City Hall

NEW BUSINESS:

Gert Town
947 S. Cortez St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

934 S. Cortez St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4921 Dixon St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this ranch-style single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4937 Dixon St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

7231 Dixon St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this contemporary commercial building to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4816 Drexel Dr. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this ranch-style single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4836 Drexel Dr. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

7200 Drexel Dr. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this contemporary commercial building to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4824 Howard Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4836 Howard Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4916 Howard Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4934 Howard Ave. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

5004 Howard Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

1003 S. Clark St. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this altered single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

910 S. Cortez St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

922 S. Cortez St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this altered Arts-and-Crafts style bungalow to be replaced with a vacant lot.

943 S. Telemachus St. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

965 S. Telemachus St. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

971 S. Telemachus St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

7440 Stroelitz St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this altered single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

7940 Washington Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this raised basement altered Neoclassical Revival house to be replaced with a vacant lot.

Squandered Heritage has pictures.

Update: These demolitions were all approved at the HCDRC meeting on July 23.

Questions from Shepard

We just got a “survey” from State Senator Derrick Shepherd. Maybe he’s taking his cues from Senator Murray, who sent us a “survey” back in May. I’m a little surprised by this since we’re not actually in Sen. Shepherd’s district, but what the hell. The man who brought us the Saggy Pants bill is full of surprises.

For the first five questions we are supposed to circle whether we agree (strongly or somewhat) or disagree (somewhat or strongly).

  1. Levee repair and strengthening should be the top priority of elected officials
  2. The housing shortage in metro New Orleans is the major cause in the delay of our recovery
  3. Instead of reopening Big Charity Hospital, the state should open community health clinics throughout the metropolitan area
  4. We should find ways to use Katrina debris to restore our wetlands
  5. We should not allow the federal government to rebuild public housing and operate it the way it was done in the past; we have to be more creative about how we provide public housing or housing assistance
  6. Who is responsible for the severe breakdown of the criminal justice system in New Orleans?

For that final question the choices are: District Attorney, Police Chief, Criminal Court Judges, or (drum roll please) The Criminals.

I think it’s self-evident that this is a completely worthless instrument for taking the measure of public opinion, so I won’t bother to expound on its deficiencies. It truly speaks for itself.

A footnote reveals this mailing wasted $15,107.00 of the taxpayer’s money.

The ultimate insult is on the other side of the card, where it says “PLACE STAMP HERE.” Yes, we’re supposed to return this “survey” (and I use the term loosely) on our own dime.

Northern Solstice

Today is the longest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere. It’s also the shortest day on the other side of the equator. For this reason some people favor calling it the Northern Solstice or the June Solstice. After all, it’s not summer in the southern half of the world.

Every year I learn a little bit more about solstices and equinoxes.

For example, I was taught that the summer solstice marks the first day of summer. But Midsummer is celebrated at the end of June, just after the solstice. That doesn’t seem to make sense. How can the middle of summer come at the beginning. I’ve been confused about that for years. Do solstices and equinoxes mark the beginnings or the midpoints of the seasons? Both, as it turns out. Some cultures do it one way, some do it another.

I wish we did more to celebrate the solstices and equinoxes. As it is, all my holiday energy gets absorbed by other days and all I never do anything special on a day like today. Homan’s got the right idea; maybe I’ll eat eggs until I puke.

Uptick

I’m not sure why, but there seems to be a real uptick in activity in our area lately. People are renovating flooded properties or demolishing and building anew.

Foundation

For a while there it seemed that progress had ground to a halt. But now it seems to be lurching forward again. Slowly, slowly to be sure. And there are still plenty of properties just sitting untouched, as I noted yesterday. But the sound of hammers swinging is definitely increased, and it’s music to my ears.

Some Houses in the 3000 Block of Bienville

For Sale

If you want to live just around the corner from yours truly, consider this freshly renovated shotgun double in the 3000 block of Bienville. Live on one side, rent out the other! I have no idea what it’s like inside, but the paint job is pretty nice.

It’s listed for $175,000. Call Luke Jones at 504-905-9101.

3017-19 Bienville

Or you could buy this house across the street. It’s not been renovated nor has it been gutted. In fact the house is still full of flooded furniture. Both front doors are wide open and high weeds are growing in front. But structurally it appears to be in decent shape, at least to a passing glance.

The sign says it is for sale. I contacted the real estate agent and he said the owner (Terry Wilson of 1430 De Battista Pl, New Orleans LA 70131) has been notified of the problems repeatedly but hasn’t done anything. However, the real estate agent also said the property is under contract and should be sold soon.

3021 Bienville

Another house on Bienville owned by the good Terry Wilson. You can’t quite tell from this photo, but the front door is ajar. Like the house further down the block, this one has not been secured or cleaned or gutted. It is almost two years since the flood. When are property owners going to be held to account?

Aw, what the hell, here’s another, 3016 Bienville:

3016 Bienville

This one’s got an adjudication notice on it. In fact, I talked to some people about this house back in April. I wonder if they purchased it or decided not to bother. Obviously no one has taken even the rudimentary step of securing the entrance.

I Am Not a Marketing Tool

I like Netflix. They’ve got a nice service that I enjoy and they did right by their customers after Katrina, automatically suspending all subscriptions within the disaster zone.

But by God, I am not promoting this event on Thursday. Dennis Quaid rocks Spanish Plaza, followed by a screening of The Big Easy? I have no clue as to Mr. Quaid’s musical prowess, but in my experience most locals turn up their nose at that flick.

(Full confession: I watched The Big Easy before moving down here as part of my feeble research effort. I thought it was OK. It did yield one line which Xy and I often quote to one another: “This is the Big Easy baby. We got a different way of doing things down here.” Actually it might be a hoot to see it again after all these years.)

I mention this only because a Netflix PR flack just contacted me (and Adrastos and Oyster and Maitri and Alan G.) and asked me to flog this on my blog.

No, I say. Enough! I am not a marketing tool. I will not succumb. Except that maybe I just did, but it was ironical, you know.

For the Love of a Cat

It’s been just over a year since Lucy disappeared. Somewhere along the way between then and now our hopes of ever seeing her gradually diminished until finally we have accepted that she is gone forever.

But I still miss her.

Lucy on the Front Porch

I find myself strangely unattached to the many cats in and around our house these days: Archer, Milo, Folds, Crybaby, not to mention the feral cat who just dropped a litter in our shed. They’re all nice in their own way, I suppose, but I don’t really care about them the way I did about Lucy.

Sometimes I think this is a defensive reaction, that I’m holding myself aloof to avoid getting hurt. We’ve lost too many cats in the past five years: Bilal, Van, Lucy, Biggs.

As sweet as they all were, none of them could compare to Lucy, and none of our current cats can hold a candle to her.

As an example of what made Lucy so special, consider this. Whenever I came back to the house, she always wanted to give me a kiss. She would jump up on a dresser or shelf and wouldn’t be satisfied until I had kissed her on the lips.

Excursion

On Friday Xy took some of the neighbor kids to the North Shore for a swim at Fontainbleau State Park. But the lake was closed for swimming, and the swimming pool was closed as well. Fortunately she found a water-based attraction, some sort of bizarre playground where the water squirts up from underneath. It might have been at the Tammany Trace Trailhead, but she seems a little hazy on the details. Best of all it was free.

She did get a speeding ticket, however.

Shuttled and Scuttled

Did you know you can watch the space shuttle take off from Vero Beach?

We didn’t.

So we just missed it last Friday.

Shuttled

“Hey, I wonder why all those people are gathered on the beach?”

We sure felt stupid.

Speaking of stupid, how about this shuttle mission? The insulating blanket seems to have been improperly buckled down or strapped on before launch, so part of it peeled back. They’re going to send an astronaut out to fix it with a surgical stapler. If that doesn’t work, they’ll try sewing it up with needle and thread. No, I’m not making this up.

And now comes news that the International Space Station is experiencing a computer failure so massive they may have to scuttle the whole thing, though they’re saying that’s an unlikely worst-case scenario.

I keep thinking: If this is the measure of our technological accomplishment, how can we expect decent flood control?

Zogby on Katrina

Back in September of 2005, I wondered if Katrina would become an campaign issue in 2008. Now pollster John Zogby says it just might:

73 percent say the U.S is in a serious crisis, according to our recent polling.

This suggests a need to redefine the very nature and structure of U.S. federalism. In our post-Katrina polling, we found a hunger nationwide for a new model for the federal government. In many ways, I believe Katrina, over the long haul, will prove to be more of a defining moment in American history than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Update: Leigh Graham has some additional analysis.

At the Laundromat

Upon our return to New Orleans, we had a bit of laundry to do, so I made my way to a nearby laundromat. This place was flooded, but it finally re-opened during our absence. The proprietor was hanging out in front, listening to Earth, Wind & Fire with his dog. I congratulated him on his renovation. We got to talking and eventually he offered me a cold beer. Then he offered me the remainder of a marijuana cigarette. Then a cop came out of the laundromat and stood next to me. I was nervous, but played it cool, and nothing happened. I guess this is the city’s way of saying, “Welcome back to New Orleans.”

For the record, drinking a can of beer on the street is legal here. Marijuana is not, but believe me when I say that marijuana is not the problem drug here. Heroin, cocaine and, yes, alcohol are our big problems. Maybe crystal meth too.

In the past I would have found this experience amusing and even charming, fodder for a good story. I still feel that way, sort of, but I’m also a little unsettled by the whole experience. Part of me wants to say, “This is why I love New Orleans.” But part of me also wants to say, “This is highly dysfunctional.” I’m caught between these two contradictory responses, and I don’t know how I feel. I can’t find the dividing line anymore.

As a rule I don’t like to drink beer in the morning but in this case I made an exception.