House Next Door

I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it, but the house next door to ours was finally purchased. I believe it went for around $40K after sitting on the market for a year. The initial price was twice that. It needs a lot of work, which is underway. The new owner’s intention is to renovate and sell. The house is comparable in size to ours. If it sells for around the same price ($250K) it should be a good return on investment.

So once again we are living next to a construction site, which kind of sucks — but it sure beats the alternative. That house has not been occupied since the floods of 2005, at least.

Here are some pix.

Debris

House Next Door

View from Our Window

Smokin' at the Ice Cream Truck

The work crew consists mainly of three guys of Honduran origin. They like to listen to classic rock on the radio. They patronize the ice cream truck. They seem to know what they’re doing.

Today I saw they were putting up Tyvek. That brought back memories. Three years ago, at our old location, work on the house next door stalled out for months. (Same as our house, actually, just later.) Some of the house wrap came undone and would flap in the breeze. Because our houses were so close together it was like the flapping was right in our bedroom. It was driving Xy crazy, and finally I had to run out with a ladder and a staple gun and secure the errant wrap.

Overheard at the Playground

Serpent Mound

Yesterday afternoon I stopped by the playground on the Jeff Davis neutral ground with my daughter. We approached Serpent Mound at the same time as a trio of kids in elementary school uniforms.

I noticed the youngest child, a girl with a withered arm, was crying. I asked if she was OK. One of the other children, a boy just a few years older, said, “I slapped her.”

“Why did you do that?”

“I’m her brother,” he said, as if that explained everything. Maybe it did.

The third child, who appeared to be the older sister, was picked up the younger girl and gave her some advice: “Grandma says if someone slaps you, you gotta slap them right back.” And she pushed her sister toward her brother, but she wouldn’t engage him.

Is this indicative of the deadly violence so deeply ingrained in our culture? Or is it just harmless playground fun?

Today is the Strike Against Crime organized by SilenceIsViolence. Please take a moment to “find some way to step outside your normal daily routine, to express the toll violence takes” on all of us.

Ocular Emergency

Friday night my daughter stabbed me in the eye. Not intentionally — she was just waving her arm around. Her little finger somehow got past my glasses, and her nail sliced right across my cornea. When she realized I was in pain she gave me a kiss. Very sweet.

It was pretty painful, but I thought I could tough it out. Xy gave me some ibuprofen. After I got the girl to sleep I started baking gingerbread biscuits for our party the next day. I was cutting them into triangular shapes with a raisin in the center which I thought looked festive and vaguely mystical.

Then, about halfway through the process, the pain in my eye flared up like I couldn’t believe. I don’t know what brought it on. It was just after I had a whiskey sour, and I briefly entertained the fantastic notion that the lemon juice had entered my bloodstream and was now irritating the wound on my eyeball. I was operating with one eye shut and somehow managed to finish the last batches of gingerbread before collapsing for the night.

Lying in bed with both eyes shut, things didn’t seem so bad. But when I got up the next morning I discovered the pain was much, much worse. I was essentially unable to do anything, unable to function. I can’t really think when I’ve felt such pain before. Certainly breaking my toe was no comparison. I was crying like a baby. And here we had a few dozen people coming over in a few hours. Yikes.

Xy drove me to a local hospital and soon I was being admitted to the emergency room. They gave me an eyechart test, which I passed. Then they put a few drops of proxymetacaine (Alcaine) in my eye and within a minute or so I was back to 99% normal. It was like a miracle, a “whole new world” as the doctor put it. This sort of topical anesthetic wasn’t readily available some years ago, so there was little relief for a scratched cornea. As it was I involuntarily laughed out loud, the relief was so sudden and profound.

They squirted some fluorescein (a fluorescent dye) in my eye and looked at it under a black light. Yup, a perfect scratch right across the cornea.

Unfortunately proxymetacaine only lasts about ten or fifteen minutes. Repeated dosing is not advisable because of side effects. So they gave me some ketrolac (Acular) which lasts longer. Alas, I found this to be not quite so effective as the proxymetacaine. Instead of 99% relief it was more like 50%. They gave me some hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin) to get me over the hump.

Funny thing about the ketrolac. The doctor (who shall remain anonymous) said that according to regulations he was supposed to give me a couple drops and then throw the $50 bottle away and write me a prescription. He thought that was crazy and I had to agree. So instead he slipped me the bottle, an act which I gather could cost him his job. Sometimes rules were meant to be broken.

I was now able to function. My friend James gave me a ride back home. I got to mulling the glögg and icing the gingerbread. We put out blue cheese, almonds and raisins, all of which are traditionally served with glögg in Sweden.

Soon our friends and neighbors were coming by and we had a wonderful party. We received many special gifts, for which we are extremely thankful. I couldn’t begin to list them all here, but I thought Bob R.’s deserved to be cited. He and his wife brought a bag with a loaf of bread, a nice bottle of red wine and some Mediterranean sea salt. I was puzzled until I read the card. Mot only did it have a picture of our house on the front, it contained a quotation from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life which, given the time of year and the circumstance, just seemed so perfect.

George and Mary give the Martinis bread, salt and wine.

Mary to Mrs. Martini: “Bread that this house may never know hunger.”
Mary to Mrs. Martini: “Salt that life may always have flavor.”
George to the Martinis: “And wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever. Enter the Martini castle.”

Many thanks to everybody.

We even had people coming from out of town for this party — Jenny and Herb and the kids. After the party the boys watched the game while the girls went to Celebration in the Oaks. Leroy eventually decided, way too late, that he wanted to go with the girls. He wasn’t into the game. “Can we watch a different movie now?” Eventually he suffered an extended meltdown which seemed to parallel end of the Saints’ undefeated season. Something of an anticlimactic end to the day but it sure beat the way it started.

As for my eye? As of Monday morning it’s almost back to normal, and I’m off the ketrolac entirely.

Using Flickr for Neighborhood Activism

Some of my neighbors have been bickering, er, I mean debating about Comiskey Park here in Mid-City. The basketball goals that used to be there were taken down when an television production company made plans to rebuild the park for a reality show. That didn’t pan out in the long run, and the park was left in a worse state than ever because of it.

But back to those basketball goals. Some neighbors don’t want them back up, and some do. Both factions have conducted informal polls and claimed results that support their positions. As the rhetoric ratcheted up, the legitimacy of these polls was called into question.

I don’t want to get caught up in the debate though. Rather I wanted to cite how one neighbor, Joseph Brock, has responded. He’s created a Flickr account specifically for this issue. He printed out signs stating the pro-basketball position. Then he went around and used his cameraphone to take pictures of various neighbors holding the signs, and posted those pictures directly to Flickr. Check out the photostream. It’s simple, powerful, effective and cheap.

I’m quite impressed.

Moved

With help from over twenty friends and neighbors we knocked our move out in just over four and a half hours. I’m still totally amazed by that. It must be a new world record.

Many thanks to everyone who lent a hand.

So now we are in our new house unpacking. And unpacking. And unpacking… I have heard many stories from people who are still living out of boxes months after their move — or even a year or more later. Those are horror stories to me. We’ve always done a good job of unpacking quickly, but we’ve never had a toddler to look after. She does complicate things.

Lutheran Invasion

There’s some 37,000 Lutheran kids volunteering in the city of New Orleans this summer. I was surprised to discover approximately half of them working next door Saturday morning.

Lutherans

I think they were mostly from New Jersey.

Their project: gutting Craig’s house. Craig was our next door neighbor, but he’s now living in Texas. He never returned after Katrina, except to remove some of his possessions, most of which were destroyed by the floodwaters.

I talked to him on the phone a couple months ago, expressing my concern about the continuing deterioration of his property, especially with regard to how it was affecting us and the quality of life on the block.

Lo and behold, he agreed to donate his house to a worthy cause, if only I could find one. I asked around, and some folks I respect recommended the Preservation Resource Center’s Operation Comeback. They acquire homes, renovate them, and sell them to first-time home buyers.

I hadn’t mentioned any of this this publicly before because I didn’t want to jinx the deal. I knew Craig might have a hard time letting go of his place. After all, one gets attached to a building after living in it for a couple decades.

But apparently the deal went through. Way to go, Craig.

Which brings us back to those Lutherans.

Inside

I had never seen the inside of Craig’s house before, yet still it brought back memories — memories of cleaning out our own house back in ’05.

The space between our house and Craig’s was filled with weeds twelve feet high or higher, not to mention a variety of shrubs, trees and other plants. No lie — were able to look up at the weeds from our second story window.

Deforestation

These Lutheran volunteers made short work of it in a single morning.

(By the way, these are ELCA kids. I was raised LCMS. The doctrinal differences between these two Lutheran denominations are “a source of great sadness.”)

I was amazed to see there was still so much furniture in the house.

Whoa

I had thought most everything had been removed. This was some nice furniture once upon a time. It was kind of sad to see it sitting on the curb. I rescued an incense holder from the pile. But it surely made me happy to see some progress on this house. The restoration of this property could have a huge positive effect on this block.

Close Encounter

I had just dropped Xy & Persephone off at the house of some friends and run a few errands. I stopped back at the house to take care of a few things. I was surprised to find a cop car parked in the middle of the street and an officer standing nearby.

I parked my car, a little further from the house than usual because the cop was blocking the way. As I walked past, I asked, “You looking for someone?” He replied in the affirmative and waved me on.

I went inside and checked my e-mail. Read a few, sent a few. I was feeling like lying down in bed and having a good cry, finding the revelations of the past few days somewhat overwhelming, but first I decided to go out back and take care of a chore, namely bagging up some old screen frames with peeling paint.

I opened the back door and started to step outside when I saw something that made me freeze in my tracks.

It was somebody’s shoulder, in a black tee shirt.

That was all I saw, but it was enough. I retreated into the house and locked the door and went back upstairs. By the time I got to the front of the house to confirm the cops were no longer there (they weren’t) I had already dialed 911.

Soon the cops were back. I was sitting on the front steps. The cops had their guns drawn. I told them where the guy was. Peeking around the corner I could see he was still there. He must have either jumped our gate or climbed over the neighbor’s fence.

Our gate was locked, with the key inside the house. I explained that to one of the cops, and he asked, “Could you expedite that, please?” So I got the key and unlocked the gate and the cops went through.

Next thing they’ve got the guy with his hands in the air, and then in cuffs.

I kept my distance, not particularly interested in letting this guy see me, but that meant I couldn’t see him too well either. He was a black male with a fauxhawk haircut, wearing a black tee shirt that said “Bienville” on the back. When I described him to Debra later she said, “Oh yeah, he’s one of the guys who hangs around on the corner, meaning Bienville and Gayoso, I think.

When I asked one of the cops what it was all about, I was told, “He beat somebody up.” And since he trespassed on my property, would I be interested in pressing charges? I said I didn’t think so.

After that I went over to our friends’ house and had a good stiff drink.

Perhaps it is time to move.

Toxic Waste Panic in Mid-City

Our big excitement today came when the New Orleans Fire Department came out to investigate a suspicious canister leaking a mysterious substance in front of the abandoned house next door to ours.

Leaking Canister

Actually we’re pretty sure it’s just white latex paint. According to a neighbor’s eyeball witness testimony, the canister was deposited in Craig’s yard at the direction of Maria Santana, local landlord extraordinaire — a name that may be recognized by long-time readers.

Still, it’s mighty disrespectful to throw your trash around like that and expect someone else to deal with it. It’s also illegal. The fire department tracked down her number, gave her a call, and left a stern message on her voice mail.

Dear Craig

Dear Craig,

Long time no see! I hope you are in good health and spirits.

I thought I should drop you a line to let you know what’s going on with your house on North Salcedo street. Unfortunately some bees have built a nest near your side entrance. It’s an active hive. We often find bees in our house that have come over from yours.

Also, I should let you know that the neighborhood kids have taken to playing on your porch and climbing in your trees. We try to keep them from doing too much damage but there’s not a lot we can do. I’m actually more worried they’ll hurt themselves.

Attached you’ll find a picture of some kids playing with a shovel in your front yard.

Digging a Hole

Just thought you should know.

Your neighbor

Wild in the Streets

I often remind Xy that we don’t live in the ghetto. This is especially obvious when we can look out the window and see kids playing in the street. Black kids, white kids, Latino kids. Diversity. This is not a place “inhabited primarily by people of the same race, religion, or social background.” By definition, this is not the ghetto.

All the same we do have certain issues.

For example, our neighbors bought a puppy, a pit bull, which they named Money and which they let run wild in the street. He’s a cute dog, but I usually see him running around with no supervision whatsoever, and that bothers me. I just learned they’ve renamed the dog Killer.

Today, as I was examining the pomegranate tree in front of our house, Money/Killer ran up and started licking Persephone’s face before I even knew he was there. He was wearing a parka with a big gold skull on the back. It was a very sweet and harmless interaction, but who’s to say what will happen next time?

Also running wild in the street, often alongside Money/Killer, are those same kids I mentioned earlier. They may be of diverse races, but they have at least one thing in common: Their parents do not supervise them closely.

I recently observed some girls running around barefoot. Not a good idea in a neighborhood littered with debris, rusty nails and broken glass. Sure enough, they sliced their feet up, and who ended up providing first aid? Xy.

It’s fun to see the kids playing together, but I do worry about them. They play in the street and sometimes come perilously close to getting hit by cars. Recently they’ve taken to playing on Craig’s front porch. (Craig is our next door neighbor, who has for all practical purposes abandoned his house.) They’re climbing his trees and performing acrobatic tricks. Xy stopped them just before they turned Craig’s porch light into a piñata. And of course they’re playing with Money/Killer the pit bull.

Different people have different parenting styles. I can understand and celebrate that. I certainly would not let my daughter run wild in the street, but does that mean it’s wrong for others? The kids sometimes report on each others’ misdeeds to Xy or me. I responded yesterday, “I’m not your parent, so I’m not going to discipline you.” But that raises the question: What is my obligation here? Where does it begin and end?

Update: Shortly after I wrote this, the neighbors gave Money/Killer away. Not sure why — maybe they just realized living in a second story walk-up wasn’t good for a rambunctious dog, or maybe they decided he was too much work. Who knows? He was a cute animal but I was glad to see him go.

Block Party

Our girl had her best sleep in a long while last night, but we sure didn’t. A bunch of guys decided to have a party in front of the abandoned house across the street, starting around 1:00 AM. They were drinking beer, listening to corridos, and generally laughing and hollering and carrying on. They were quite loud, and the music was louder. Somehow I slept through a couple hours of this. Or rather, I was half asleep, vaguely aware of the noise but still more or less zonked. Xy on the other had was suffering through a migraine and unable to sleep. Debra came out and asked the guys to quiet down, but they just laughed at her. Around 3:00 AM I woke up fully to make Persephone a bottle and took stock of the situation. Even with our windows closed (a shame on such a nice night) the noise level in our bedroom was way too high.

So I called the cops. Just as I did so, the party seemed to break up, so I told them to forget about it. Yet over the next hour the party reformed and broke up and reformed yet again. What the hell was happening out there? It was less loud now, but still enough to keep me awake. And then the final insult: the sound of breaking glass, as beer bottles were chucked against the steps of the abandoned house. How incredibly disrespectful. We’ve got more kids playing in our neighborhood than ever — and you’re busting bottles?

Broken Bottle [detail]

Thus I ended up calling the cops again, around 4:00 AM. I told them if a cruiser were just to pass by and flash its lights, that would probably be sufficient to break the party up for good. I don’t know if they actually came or not. I was too busy getting back to sleep.

One thing I want to make clear. I don’t relish calling NOPD on my neighbors. (I’m assuming these guys live nearby.) In fact, I hate it. I’d rather deal with people directly. But let’s be real. Even if I had the balls to go out in the middle of the night and confront a group of drunken guys on the street, the fact remains that we don’t even speak the same language, so I don’t really think we’d have a meeting of the minds.

If I could directly address these guys, here’s what I would have said: “As much as I hate calling the cops, you should hate it even more, because you never know what you’re going to get. The situation could get very ugly and out of hand, and people could get seriously hurt. But as far as I’m concerned you’re leaving me no other option, except suffering in silence, and that’s something I won’t do. I don’t mind people drinking beer on the street in the middle of the night. I really don’t — so long as you’re not bothering me. But if you are going to be so blatantly disrespectful to the neighborhood, then you’ve sacrificed any such tolerance on the altar of your own stupidity, and frankly I no longer care if you get chewed up by the prison-industrial complex. So how about you pipe the fuck down or go home?”

We love our little corner of Mid-City. We were just remarking yesterday afternoon how seeing black and white and Latino kids playing together was very sweet. But still, my only regret is not calling the cops earlier.

Strangely enough I’m feeling chipper today despite the lack of a good night’s rest. I think I’m on the upswing from whatever virus I was battling. Xy on the other hand went to school puking, and came home early. I hope she feels better soon.

Good Morning

Woke up to the sound of screaming. Actually I was already half-awake — I slept sitting up last night cradling the girl to help with her congestion. But the screaming got my attention. Xy had just gone out the door to catch her car pool ride to work. That wasn’t her voice I was hearing — I didn’t think. I extricated myself from the girl, taking care she wouldn’t roll off the bed. Sure enough, Xy and some neighbors were gathered in front of the house across the street, the Big Red Barn as I call it. Xy told me to call 911, and I did. She said there was a fight in the lower right apartment, and she went alongside the building and threw some junk at the window. She said a guy was choking a woman. There was a lot of chaos with people coming and going. I wasn’t dressed so I stayed inside and kept an eye on the girl. Xy’s car pool picked her up. The cops came about 15 minutes after my call, but by then all was quiet. They knocked on the door, got no answer, then got back in the car. By the time I pulled on some pants and shoes they were gone.

Xy called from school with her theory of what went down. Her imagination can run wild at times, but this seems plausible. The Latino guys across the street hired a pair of prostitutes. One woman was black, the other white. There was a dispute about money, and that’s why the guy was fighting with the black woman and she was screaming. The white woman left her there. The black woman departed shortly thereafter, with or without the money in question. This apparently all happened before Xy even left, because she told them, “Don’t ever come back here, I’ve got your license number.”

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Bonfired Up

Running Round [cropped]

There’s nothing I want to do on New Year’s Eve except run around the Christmas-tree bonfire on Orleans Avenue. New Year’s Eve is usually a big let-down, but the bonfire is fantastic. I would probably just stay home otherwise.

According to some accounts, this is a tradition that’s been going on for close to a hundred years. But now the City of New Orleans wants to shut it down.

Bonfire Flyer

In the year’s I’ve attended, there’s been a huge crowd, pretty wild, with tons of fireworks. A few people are bound to have gotten hurt. And discharging fireworks is illegal in Orleans Parish.

But having said all that, some things are more important than safety and good sense. This is not just a party, it’s time-honored community celebration, a sacred ritual. I really need to run around that bonfire. It may be illegal and dangerous — but I don’t care.

Remember, running around the bonfire ensures good luck in the coming year. If they shut it down they are essentially condemning us to a year of bad luck. It’s not just tradition at stake here!

Many of my neighbors are getting pretty fired up about this. It’s too symbolic to pass quietly. Symbols matter. I expect there will be quite a turnout for the meeting Monday night. And I suspect there will be a bonfire on Orleans Avenue this New Year’s Eve.

I do care about the immediate neighbors on Orleans Avenue. If they want it shut down, well, I can’t say I blame them. I’d respect their wishes. But if they largely support the bonfire in some form, then the best approach is harm reduction. The bonfire’s gonna happen, so how can it be made as safe as possible?

See also:

Update: Having talked about this with a few people, including a friend in city government, I’m convinced this is a classic example of a clash between a folk tradition and modern society. The salient questions which those in authority will ask simply have no good answers. Who is organizing the event? Who’s responsible? Who’s liable? Who do we talk to about this? Sorry, there’s no one. This is an event that’s evolved organically over time. There are no ringleaders, there is no formal organization. In the past, fire trucks have stood at the ready to douse the fire and to prevent it from spreading. Obviously some authorities knew about the event and even tacitly enabled it. But now that (for whatever reason) the issue has been dragged into the spotlight of public scrutiny, there is of course only one coherent position for authorities to take. They have to say no. They have to; it’s their only coherent position as sworn upholders of law and order. But rationality is overrated. Sometimes it’s better to be right than coherent.

Another Update: Sheldon Fox called me last night wanting an interview; I referred him to Michael Homan and Mark Folse. There’s a petition which some folks are planning to print and present at the meeting Monday. This story was on the front page of the paper, and they also ran a story about the fire in the blogosphere.

Neighbor Kids & Roller Girls

The neighbor kids are always knocking on our door. The reasons seem to come and go in waves. Most recently my wrench has been enjoying a great popularity. Hassan in particular will come over and borrow the wrench several times a day, as he fiddles with his bike. Hassan usually asks for the pliers, but it’s the wrench that he wants. But he’s not the only one. Lamar and Josh use it too. My hand pump is also much in demand.

Saturday evening we decided to take Persephone to the swing set on the Jeff Davis neutral ground. She’s just big enough to be able to ride in the special swing with the legholes built in. Somehow we accumulated an entourage of five kids. Xy wanted them to get permission from their parents, and we waited while the fifth child checked. We saw her mom lean out over the porch railing there on Bienville. We waved and she waved back and she said OK to her daughter.

But the other four kids were a different story. They were all from the same family, but they said their mom wasn’t home. No one was home. They were running the streets unsupervised, it seemed.

We walked up to the swing set together and spent a half-hour playing around. Kids love babies, I’ve noticed. All the kids love love playing with our daughter. Black and white kids playing together: It’s a scene you would never have seen in the town where I grew up.

But I was filled with sadness as I watched them play, because I realized there was zero chance that any of these kids would remain friends with my daughter as she grew up. I know that in a couple years, these kids just won’t be around the neighborhood anymore. They’ll have moved on. That’s our post-Katrina reality. Before Katrina, most of our immediate neighbors were poor, but there was more stability.

The four kids from the same family were all skinny. The fifth girl was a little on the heavy side — just a tad bit chunky. But those four other kids were skinny, almost like they were malnourished.

On the way back the oldest girl asked me where we planned to send our daughter for school. She said she went to A. P. Tureaud, and offered that if we sent our daughter there, she would take care of her. I thought that was extremely sweet.

It was getting dark.

Xy saw the kids home, just around the corner from our house. Then we went in to graze on some leftover pizza. Shortly there was a knock on the door. It was one of the girls, one of the four. She said she couldn’t find her brother and sisters, and there was no one at home, and she didn’t want to be alone. She clearly wanted to hang out with us for a while.

Xy didn’t buy her story for a minute. Being a teacher gives one a sense for these things. She walked her back to their house around the corner, and sure enough her siblings were there. No parents though.

A while later there was another knock. It was her brother, the only boy in the family. He wanted to know if I had a cell phone. He wanted to call his grandmother. They wanted to go to her house. They didn’t want to be at home alone with no supervision.

I said I thought maybe it would be best if I called. He gave me the number. I spoke to the woman, explained the situation. She talked to her grand son. Mom was on the West Bank, it seemed. Grandma called me back a short time later. She thanked me and said she was coming out to pick the kids up.

And so. Today, Sunday, I got on my bike and rode to Home Depot. I bought a heavy-duty 24″ push broom — kind of awkward on the bike. I headed out on the Jeff Davis bike path. I passed the garden at First Grace United, where kids were doing some activity under adult supervision. Black and white kids and adults in harmony. I passed the volleyball net that was recently erected on the Jeff Davis neutral ground. A small group was playing volleyball. Black and white kids and adults in harmony.

I got to where the bike path goes over the I-10. The Big Easy Roller Girls were organizing a cleanup. We swept up an amazing quantity of debris — mostly broken glass.

Bagged

That stretch of path needs to be swept out once a year; I doubt it had been done for a decade or more.

I swept until I got a blister on the palm of my hand. I reflected on how much easier it is to clean up a bike path than to solve deep societal problems.

I got a sunburn.

October 30th: Broken glass re-appears on the path.

November 2nd: Blister peels.

A Party on Our Street

As I type this, I am under sonic assault. It is 8:15 PM on a Sunday night, and we are entering the fifth hour of high volume party jams from a DJ down on the corner. Sitting in my house, I can hear every beat and every word, even with the doors and windows closed — but the weather’s too nice to keep the windows closed.

Somebody’s grandma died. Some of the party-goers are decked out in “dead man shirts” commemorating their matriarch. This is a big street party in her honor. Lot of folks from the Fischer, or so I gather.

Apparently grandma was heavily into old school New Orleans bounce. Or maybe that’s just the DJ. I’ve got to say on a purely technical level I am mighty impressed by the power of his setup. I mean it is loud and clear, no distortion.

The party got started around 3:30. I caught these lyrics:

So eat this black music and tell me how it taste now?
And fuck Jesse Jackson cause it ain’t about race now.

That’s the Game, in case you didn’t know. Those lyrics really confuse me. If it ain’t about race then why did Mr. Game just label his music racially? But maybe I’m putting too much science on this.

Oops — It’s 8:20 PM and the music has stopped. That’s five hours almost on the dot. Xy predicted they’d shut down at 9:00.

I’d say our block sees an event like this about once a year. They always end before it gets too late. I appreciate that.

I regard such parties as a sacred ritual of sorts, especially with Grandma’s passing. Given the sheer volume of the event, we’re kind of forced to become part of the ritual. Our heads are in the party whether we want to be or not. My only objection is that, under the circumstances, y’all could at least offer up some of that good-smelling BBQ. We didn’t know the dearly departed, but we’re hungry too. Maybe share some drinks while you’re at it. Is that so much to ask?

More Neighbor Kids

I came outside today to find Johnny and some other kids throwing rocks at our next door neighbor’s house. Our next door neighbor (Craig) decided to stay in Texas after his Katrina evacuation. The weeds in his yard are now eight feet tall. I have some issues with Craig, obviously, but I didn’t think Johnny should throw rocks at the house. I exhorted him to stop, and we had a little discussion about Craig, who he is and what’s up with his house. Johnny expressed a desire to blow Craig’s house up. I said that wouldn’t be a good idea because our house would probably catch on fire. I told him not to throw rocks at the house again, got in the car and drove off. In the mirror I could see that the rock-throwing continued.

While I was at the hardware store, apparently, the cops rolled up on the scene. They told Johnny to quit and go home. (Xy reported what happened when I got back.) There’s broken glass all over Craig’s porch.

Who’s Stonewalling Who?

Normally neighborhood groups support the demolition of abandoned buildings. However, last Monday representatives from the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization spoke against the demolition of the old Lindy Boggs Medical Center.

Lindy Boggs

Reaction has been mixed. Here’s a typical comment from the story on nola.com:

Great, a bunch of boneheads that want to look important attempt to stop the demolition of a disgusting flooded out hospital. Get a life losers.

Or, as Anthony put it (in much more reasonable and civil terms):

And just how long are we prepared to live with these abandoned buildings? Months, years, decades?

And that’s exactly the question I asked in advance of the hearing before the Housing Conservation District Review Committee. This wasn’t an easy call. But ultimately I felt that opposition to the demolition was the correct stance for the neighborhood organization to take.

Why? Well, it’s like this. The company that wants to do the tear-down is Victory Real Estate Investments. We have been trying to contact them for the last seven months, with zero success. We want to know what their plans might be for that site — but they’re not talking.

The HCDRC’s own rules state that redevelopment plans must be submitted before demolitions are approved, but as we know, the HCDRC is broken beyond belief. (They illegally approved a demolition in our neighborhood the same day.)

Furthermore, rumors abound that public funds will be used for the demolition, rumors which were fueled by comments Victory’s representative made at Monday’s hearing. Yet we’ve been unable to ascertain what funds these might be, and have even received stark denials from some quarters. The rumor is $10 million via the Office of Recovery Managment. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but ORM won’t answer our queries.

Why should an arguably serviceable building be knocked down on the public dime without the public having some say?

Also, we’ve got a lot of questions about the demolition itself that no one will address. This would be a fairly massive project. We want to be assured that it will be conducted in an environmentally responsible fashion and that measures will be taken to protect properties across the street and preserve some quality of life for residents of the surrounding area.

Finally, to address the legitimate concern Anthony gave voice to: How long are we willing to live next to abandoned and blighted property? Let me put this in my personal perspective. I’m living next door to a house which still hasn’t been gutted since the flood. Around the corner on our block is an abandoned grocery that has never been cleaned out. We’ve got kids and seniors living cheek-by-jowl with blight. So a fenced building that sits on its own block with no residences isn’t really at the top of my list. I’ve been putting up with far worse.

To be perfectly accurate, we did not oppose the demolition per se. We asked for a 30-day deferral to allow time for Victory to meet with the neighborhood and discuss their redevelopment plans and details of the demolition. Reasonable, no? The HCDRC met us half-way: They deferred for 15 days.

So now Victory has chance to establish some trust with the neighborhood. That’s some fat chance. At the hearing, they denied ever having heard from us over the past seven months of unreturned phone calls. How very disrespectful! We invited them to come to our community meeting last night. They didn’t. We said we’d be ready to meet anytime, anywhere. Nothing so far.

We don’t believe they will meet with us. We have good reason to believe the fix is in, so to speak, and that the HCDRC will approve this demolition regardless of how much community opposition is brought to bear.

Last night Shelley Midura spoke at our community meeting. I don’t have a high regard for most of our local politicians, but I do respect Shelley. Nonetheless I was disheartened and taken aback by her tone. She seemed to say that the demolition would indeed be approved and we just need to trust her and Stacey Head to do the right thing.

The problem is that, given Victory’s portfolio and secrecy, it’s very hard to have any level of trust. Add in the fact that Victory burned us before (remember Movie Pitchers?) and trust would seem to be a very foolish attitude indeed.

C’mon, Victory, quit playing it so close to the vest. Meet with the neighborhood. Tell us what you have in mind. We want and need economic development in our neighborhood. Work with us to get to “yes.”

Neighbor Kids

Xy wanted to give some trinkets to the neighbor kids this holiday season, so she had one of the girls compile a list.

  1. Tomanique
  2. Shawn’ae
  3. Shawniah
  4. Shawnique
  5. Jurr’ieon
  6. Jurr’eall
  7. Melqueisha
  8. Amy
  9. Tyesha
  10. Joshua
  11. Zykeith
  12. La Aarea
  13. Keira
  14. Lamar
  15. Justin
  16. Cheveniqua

Ages range from one to fifteen, and three-quarters of the kids are girls. I was surprised by the sheer number of kids on our little block, though a significant chunk of the list just moved away yesterday.

Stepping Back So You Can Step Forward

Here’s a note I sent to my neighborhood discussion group.

Neighbors,

After much soul-searching I have decided that I will not be seeking another term on the board of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. This is purely for personal reasons: My wife and I are expecting a child in early March (if the Good Lord is willing!) and our renovation is lagging far behind schedule. I feel that in 2008 I have to commit my time and effort even closer to home.

It’s a difficult decision because working with the Mid-City board has been such a rewarding experience. I hope to be back some day soon.

My focus on our Board of Directors has been Communications. I sincerely hope that as I step back, someone else with interests in this arena will step forward.

My primary responsibilities as Communications Director have included: running the mcno.org website, maintaining the on-line discussion group, and administering a grant from Mercy Corps which has paid for flyers and posters and (hopefully) signs. I’ve also convened monthly meetings of the Communications Committee which has helped provide guidance and volunteer labor for these efforts, including the block captains program (still in its infancy) spearheaded by Deborah Langhoff.

Sure, it takes some time, but I have found it to be very rewarding, and there’s so much left to do. I will work with whoever takes over this position to ensure a smooth transition.

If you’re interested in nominating yourself for the board, see the instructions on our website. And hurry! The election is Monday.

Bart Everson
Communications Director
Mid-City Neighborhood Organization
http://mcno.org/

Over the past couple years I’ve spread myself rather thin. I’ve lost track of how many boards I sit on. Generally my philosophy has been to always say “yes.” And it’s been a great experience. As noted, I do plan to step back from most of these extra-curricular responsibilities.

But not all. I think it’s vital to maintain some involvement in the community.

Anyway, if at anytime I’ve inspired you to think about getting active in any way, now is the time for you to step up.