A Change of Direction

I was surprised to discover this morning that our one-way street had reversed direction overnight.

Well, it wasn’t a big surprise really. The city had sent me a letter explaining the plan and polling our opinion, but I never mailed the form back in. After mulling it over a while I thought it might not be such a bad idea.

Our neighbor Charles was pissed about it though. He had voted against — twice, actually. He got two forms because he owns a double.

It’s kind of poetic for this to happen today, I suppose, because this afternoon we met with our favorite Realtor to discuss the possibility of selling our house. Kind of a change of direction for us. Further ruminations forthcoming.

Our car seemed to be disoriented by parking in the opposite direction from which it is accustomed. It started honking randomly this evening. Very annoying. I finally got under the hood and yanked the horn fuse to shut the damn thing up.

Welcome Home


When we got back from our trip Sunday, one of the first things I noticed was that damn canister is still sitting there next to the curb just a few feet from our house. The canister doesn’t directly impinge upon us, but it kind of junks up the area. I had hoped against hope that someone would have taken responsibility for disposing of this thing properly while we were gone. Alas, not the case.

(You do remember the mysterious canister, right? I wrote about it a couple months ago.)

As I was unloading the car, I happened to notice Maria Santana was visiting her rental properties. I caught her attention, pointed to the canister, and asked her: “Is that yours?”


I shrugged and carried on about my business. On my next trip out to the car, I asked her a follow-up question: “Do you know whose it is?”

It seemed like a reasonable question to me. But she responded by biting my head off. She told me to mind my own business and dressed me down for a good minute. I could hardly get a word in edgewise, but I tried. Eventually she asked me why I would think she had anything to do with the canister. I pointed out that the canister appeared to be full of white paint, and it materialized right next to a house that she owns on the same day that it was painted white. Purely circumstantial, of course. I didn’t mention some of her tenants had fingered her as the culprit — she evicted those folks, so I could imagine her response.

She denied any wrongdoing, but she continued to yell at me so vociferously that I only tended to suspect her all the more. In any case, it became abundantly clear that she is not a very nice person. Maybe she’s still mad about her confrontation with Xy three years ago.

The canister is still there and shows no signs of moving. I really don’t know what to do about it at this point. It’s too heavy for me to move, and I don’t know where I’d take it anyway. I guess it will just sit there forever.


The damage to our car from running up on that curb has been repaired. The bill? $4,008.53. Xy’s response: Time to get a new car. My response: At least we met our deductible.

On a related note, the future of Saturn appears uncertain at this point, so I’m rather discouraged about ever getting satisfaction on the non-starting issue.

And speaking of curbs, sort of, I was happy to see work crews on my block this morning, ripping out some old beat-up sidewalks for wholesale replacement.

Sidewalk Replacement

White Nigga Rick

I was hanging out with the neighbors across the street one evening, about a month ago. I was mostly talking to this older gentleman, a guy about 80, nicknamed Easy. We were sharing some Crown Royal and talking about all manner of things.

But as I was talking to Easy, I overheard a conversation amongst some of the younger guys. By younger, I mean around my age. Note that everyone there was African-American except for Rick and me.

“Rick, you may be a white guy, but your shit’s just tighter than any nigga round here.”

“Yeah, Rick, you’re like a white nigga.”

“We oughta call you… White Nigga Rick!”

“Yeah, Rick the white nigga.”

“Mister Rick, the white nigga.”

And there was much laughter and many variations on the theme.

I’ve held off writing about this for over a month because I’m not in the habit of repeating racial epithets. Yet this story couldn’t be recounted properly without using the n-word. Plus, it stirred up some weird feelings that I still can’t fully analyze.

Part of what I felt was disgust, because I was taught not to talk like that. I’m uncomfortable hearing that term used among people of any race, even in a friendly fashion, for reasons that have been written about and debated by others ad nauseum. I’ve certainly gotten desensitized after living in New Orleans for eight years, but hearing it applied by black men to a white man gave it a certain freshness.

Yet the offense I felt was commingled with a sense of admiration. Here are people breaking down racial barriers. Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that heart-warming?

Overriding these conflicting emotions, I also felt a great deal of amusement. The spirit of the whole thing was pretty silly and good-natured.

As the other white guy in the mix, I felt a little left out. My neighbors didn’t apply this term of endearment and inclusion to me. They didn’t proclaim that my shit was tight. But at the same time I recognized that I don’t want to be caught up in that embrace. It would make me feel incredibly uncomfortable. So what, do I think I’m better than them? I’ve rarely felt so white and so bourgeois.

One consequence of Rick’s christening is that he now feels free to sling the n-word with abandon. I heard him on his cell yesterday, “Where y’at nigga?”

Maybe he always talked that way. I don’t know.

I’m still not sure how I feel about any of this.

Stop Work

While my neighbor on one side faces an unwanted demolition, the house on the other side has been a completely different story.

It was a small little two-story house, divided into two tiny apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs. It had seen better days and leaned slightly to one side. It was under renovation when the flood hit.

Since then it’s been an eyesore, but the neighborhood is full of those. So I was glad when the landlord finally sent a crew to work on it back in May.

The Leaning Tower of New Orleans

First they gutted it.

Then they rebuilt the lower floor, leaving the upper floor intact.

Then they rebuilt the upper floor.

Essentially they demolished the old house and built a new one that occupies exactly the same dimensions.

And, despite the debris and the noise, I was pretty happy about the progress.

I wasn’t so happy when they tore down the shed in back and built a third apartment. I believe that’s illegal for about four different reasons. I also wasn’t happy about the fact that they didn’t do any remediation during the demolition for what I presume was lead-based paint, a real hazard in an old neighborhood like ours.

Work Stoppage

In any event, activity has ground to a halt, as the Office of Safety & Permits posted a stop work order. Seems they didn’t have a building permit for any of this work.

Update: My sources in City Hall pass along the following:



My next door neighbor (now living in Texas) was a little skeptical when I told him that his house was slated for demolition. Where was the proof? An Excel spreadsheet e-mailed to me by a woman I’ve never even met. Sounds a little sketchy. And this list can’t be found on any official websites.

Fortunately Karen and Sarah were good enough to find the listing published in the Times-Picayune. Here’s the picture:


Pretty convincing proof that this isn’t just a figment of our collective imaginations. I sent this picture on to Craig. Thanks to Karen and Sarah for helping to get the news out.

Update: Karen also took a picture that illustrates the size of the demolition list. There have been so many listings the Times-Picayune published them as self-contained advertising supplements.

TP Lists

Hoosier Car

As I’ve mentioned before, a white Honda Prelude has been sitting on our block for over three months. It’s had debris piled on it. It’s been jacked up and cannibalized for parts. It’s had the rear window smashed out. The police came and looked at it on several occasions. But still it remained.

I was pleasantly surprised this weekend to see the owner return and haul the damn thing back to Munster, Indiana.

I talked to them about it, but I didn’t learn much. It seems they had a small problem with the transmission. I didn’t ask why it took three months to remove the vehicle.

Herewith, a pictorial retrospective of this derelict automobile’s tenure on North Salcedo.

Indiana Plate

Car Under Debris


It’s gone now. Good riddance.

Debra Got Popped

Friday night I was hangin’ with the neighbs across the street. Everybody was joking and laughing and having a good time. I remember thinking it was odd when Debra took off on her bicycle. Where was she going so late at night?

This morning (Saturday) I was awakened early by a knock at the door. It was Debra’s son, Josh, and Debra’s friend who lives in the same building, Trenetta. Debra hadn’t come home. Trenetta wanted to borrow my cellphone to calling Debra, but there was no answer. She tried calling Central Lockup but got no answer.

I went back to bed. Later they stopped by again to let us know they’d found Debra indeed was in jail. She’d been arrested for public intox and also for an outstanding traffic warrant.

Still later in the day they stopped by to borrow $200 for bail. We only gave $100.

I guess they were successful because the final visit from Trenetta and Josh indicated they’d paid the bail and Debra would be out soon. I still haven’t seen her.

We’ve loaned Debra lots of money over the last year, mostly in increments of $10 or $20 but adding up to over $100 at times. She’s always paid us back. However, lately we’ve begun to suspect that the stories she’s told about why she needs money aren’t always true. She’s seemed kind of messed up lately, like she was headed for a fall. I just hope she doesn’t fall further.


In April I looked out my window and saw three white kids pushing a white car. They stopped just down the street from our house. I thought to myself, “Oh, they’re having car trouble.” An hour later I noticed they were gone but the car was still there, and it dawned on me: That car’s gonna be there for a while.

Indiana Plate

It’s a white Honda Prelude with an Indiana plate, #96 C 3139. That’s Lake County, I think. No good, dirty, rotten Hoosiers.

It’s three months later and the car is still there. A couple weeks ago someone jacked it up and helped themselves to some parts. Last week another house was gutted and the debris was partially piled on top of the car.

Car Under Debris

I’ve faxed and phoned about this vehicle repeatedly. I’ve seen the police come out in response to my calls and take note of the vehicle. Yup, that’s an abandoned car all right. They even appear to write stuff down. But it’s still there. I wonder how long it will stay?

Update: An anonymous tipster tells me that this plate is registered to one Kevin Trotman out of Munster, Indiana — who should not be confused with this Flickr user of the same name.

Musical Houses

The neighbors across the street did it real big for Independence Day: a tent, two grills, and two pools for the kiddies.

July 4 Panorama

The party had a nice “neighborhood” feel. You would hardly guess that the blue house is still uninhabitable from the flood of 2005, or that the red house (a fourplex) is in such sad shape that everyone is planning to move soon.

Actually I don’t know if the condition of the house is the real reason, but people are moving, or so Justin told me.

Justin is a teenager. I loaned him a pair of swim trunk when Xy made the excursion to the north shore a few weeks ago, a loan which has turned into a gift. He and some of the other neighbor kids have taken to hanging out on our porch, which is kind of an odd phenomenon, but one we don’t really mind. They’re friendly enough kids, just looking for a place to hang out, and it feels safer with people around.

Anyway, Justin said that everyone in the fourplex across the street and the double on the corner is planning to move, including his family. (Both properties are owned by Maria Santana, a woman with whom we’ve tangled before.) But they may be moving for a variety of reasons — to be closer to certain schools or back in a familiar neighborhood or outside the disaster zone or whatever. Part of me wants to do “exit interviews” — to find out the real reasons for the mass exodus.

This news was kind of depressing to me, not because I put my neighbors up on some kind of pedestal, but just because it’s destabilizing. I’ve finally gotten to know most of our immediate neighbors on a first-name basis. It’s just not healthy for the community to have a high turnover. It’s hard to have a sense of community if you’re just passing through, just in transition.

I need to start thinking now about how to better greet the new neighbors when they arrive, to try to establish a sense of community, an atmosphere of mutual respect and mutual aid. If I say, “We look out for each other here,” maybe we will. Something as simple as a handshake and a card with my name and phone number might help.

I dream of living in a neighborhood some day where people want to stay.


Some days I feel pretty gloomy about the way things are going in my little area of Mid-City.

But on other days I feel much more optimistic. Today is one of those better days.

For one thing, Charles is coming back. ACORN gutted his house today, and he’s doing right by Road Home. He’s going to be able to rebuild his 110 year old house which is just down the street from ours.


Charles is one of the few homeowners in the immediate area. When he’s back in the ‘hood with Gwen and Xy and me, I predict the stability factor will increase 50%.

Charles was a sight for sore eyes. But I’m also feeling good because across the street some guys are sitting at a folding table playing dominoes. There’s even a white dude at the table.

It’s almost starting to feel like Mid-City again.

On our side of the street, two teenage boys are lounging atop a car. They’re acting all thuggish and hard, as teenage boys are wont to do, but they’re playing Connect Four. That cracks me up.

Next Door

They’ve finally started work on the house next door to ours, which has been an eyesore for years. They’ve decided to renovate rather than demolish. If they demolished, they probably wouldn’t be able to rebuild according to modern codes and zoning, because of the extremely small lot.

The Leaning Tower of New Orleans

First step: Remove the contents from the upstairs rooms and pile them on the street, including a large quantity of newspapers which scatter everywhere when the wind blows. I called the property owner twice to complain. I hate complaining like that, but I think maybe he got the point.

Now they’re taking steps to straighten the building, which has been leaning for years. I expressed my hope that it would not fall on our house. The owner said he couldn’t guarantee it.

I suspect this work is being done without the proper permits. I also suspect that the workers are not licensed contractors. Yesterday morning they somehow ruptured a gas line. There was loud hissing, the smell of gas permeated the air, and Entergy had to come out and seal it back up.

I’m keeping my eye on this one. I’ve seen some of the other flooded properties “fixed up” by this family, and frankly I have not been impressed. To their credit, I must say they have done more with their properties than a lot of owners in the surrounding blocks. But at the same time, I find the quality of the work disappointing. To come back strong, our neighborhood needs housing that meets a certain basic level of quality.

Indian Summer

I’m not certain, but it seems to me there is a dearth of summer camps and similar activities for youth in New Orleans as the school year draws to a close. The Urban League is providing a summer camp at Xy’s school, but that’s across the river in Algiers.

That’s why Xavier University’s “Mardi Gras Indian Arts Summer School” caught my eye. It sounds like a fascinating program. Kids ages 11-14 will make their own Mardi Gras Indian Costume and learn about the tradition. Applications are due on May 28.

Kid Indians

photo by dsb nola

Xy and I don’t have a child, but I’m sharing this information with our neighbors. At $50 the program seems affordable considering it lasts two months. But that still might be a stretch for some of my neighbors, so we may provide our own little North Salcedo Street scholarship fund.

More information and application forms are available on Xavier’s website.

Blood on the Sidewalk

Xy came home from visiting with a friend yesterday evening to discover that our block was a crime scene. Police had the street blocked off and they were taking photos on the sidewalk, practically right in front of our house. Fearing that I might have been the victim, she parked on a side street and rushed over.

But I was fine. In fact, I didn’t have a clue as to what had been unfolding outside. I was inside listening to avant-garde music, snacking on some gourmet cheeses, drinking some cognac, checking my e-mail and generally puttering about.

When I asked the police officer what had happened, she told me there had been a robbery. In retrospect, it seems a little odd that the police didn’t knock on our door to ask if I’d seen anything.

More details emerged when we talked to our neighbors. They said four guys jumped one guy and beat him up pretty badly. One of my neighbors witnessed it, but she’s scared to talk to the police. She says she didn’t really see much anyway.

Xy found a dollar’s worth of change on the sidewalk, and several bloodstains.

Blood & Money

Shortly thereafter, we heard a lot of angry hollering around the corner on Bienville. I’m not sure what it was all about. I didn’t think it wise to go down and gawk, but I’m sure it was related to the incident on our street.

Later, Debra came over and said she was afraid to work late anymore and leave her kids unattended. She said it was getting so she was afraid to come outside at night.

A friend recently commented that she thought our part of Mid-City was “scary.” I guess this proves her right. We feel scared, too, and somewhat helpless. Other parts of Mid-City are coming back strong, but our little corner is coming back scary. There’s only one person from the old neighborhood who’s back (Gwen), and most of the houses are still vacant, and most of the residents don’t stay very long, and there’s a FEMA trailer park across the way with sixty or seventy units. Our community is fractured, unstable, and under stress, and that’s a recipe for bad things happening.

Right now I’d just like to know what really happened last night. I suspect it was more of a beef than a robbery.

There is an anti-crime march this Saturday, organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Council. (I can’t find any information online and I left the flyer at home, but I think it starts at Tulane and Broad at 11:00 AM.) Xy and I were planning on going even before this thing happened. Of course, marching is not really enough. But what else can we do?


Here it is eight days later, and my head is still stuck in Easter Sunday.

I keep thinking back to a conversation I had with Debra.

Debra lives across the street. She’s a single mother raising children in difficult circumstances. Her oldest son was murdered in Central City last October. She doesn’t make much money working her job at an Uptown grocery. Often she has to borrow from us. She always pays back, but I worry about her.

As we stood on the street and talked, she said she’d like to go back to school and get a degree. She said she’d like to own her own home some day — the American dream.

She shared some of the particulars of her financial situation. The Housing Authority of New Orleans is paying Debra’s rent under Section 8. The check, which goes directly to the landlord, is for the amount of $1,300 every month.

That’s more than our monthly mortgage payment. Our house is almost as large as the entire fourplex in which Debra’s apartment is located. Right, that’s $1,300 for a somewhat crappy, small, unfurnished apartment in a fourplex. Appliances not included — fridge and stove must be provided by the tenant.

In fact, the apartment is bad enough that Debra is planning to move soon. That makes me sad, because I like Debra, and our neighborhood is so unstable now. Every time we get to know our neighbors, they move. But I digress.

There is such a thing as a Section 8 Homeownership program, but as far as I can tell, we don’t have that in New Orleans.

Or do we? According to an Excel spreadsheet on the HUD website, there have been at least 65 closings in New Orleans through the Housing Choice Voucher Homeownership Program. I’m making some phone calls to see if I can chase down any further information.

The ultimate irony is that as I had this conversation with Debra, we were looking at all the vacant, flooded homes surrounding us.

Some days it feels like we are living inside a giant puzzle that no one knows how to fix.

Yard Work, Continued

The other weird thing about the yard work we did on Easter Sunday is that a lot of it wasn’t really in our yard at all. We’ve started taking care of our next door neighbor’s yard. Craig is not coming back to New Orleans. He’s built a new house in Texas. Meanwhile, his house here in New Orleans sits unoccupied. Most of the contents have been removed. He hasn’t put it on the market yet. I don’t know what he plans to do.

Meanwhile, vegetation continues to grow. Here in the subtropics, if you don’t trim the vegetation back it will take over quickly. So we got in there Sunday and went to work.

Turning the earth, I found bricks set in a double row next to our house, technically on our property, which haven’t seen the light in years.

Amidst the overgrowth, I found an old doorknob and the pieces of a broken shrine.

Broken Shrine

I’m vaguely aware that there’s something sad about all this. But I am still amazed by the strange beauty that can be found, even amidst destruction.


I wish I’d gotten a picture of the neighbor girls helping us, trying not to get their Easter clothes dirty. They were cute and sweet.

Yard Work

Easter Sunday. Xy and I spend the day engaged in yard work. Our “yard” is about 4′ x 12′ between the sidewalk in front of our house and the street. Obviously you don’t need a riding lawnmower to take care of this.

Our Yard

Despite the incredibly small size of our yard, we’ve never had to cut it before in the five years since we bought this house.

There’s always been somebody in the neighborhood who volunteered to look after our yard for us. They weren’t particular about getting paid regularly, and they certainly didn’t charge much.

But they were good men, decent people just trying to stay alive in this harsh world, so we were happy to slide them some bucks when we could.

Before Katrina it was Dan who looked after our yard. Dan lived just around the corner. He handled any odd job that came his way. Usually that meant cooking up his own odd jobs. I can respect that.

Dan the Can Man

Dan was not in the best of health before the storm. He seemed to have some sort of parasitic infestation which we often discussed. I could never figure it out. In fact, I was pretty worried about him in the summer of 2005, but then Katrina came, and a few months later Dan passed away. We heard it from his sister, Gwen.

Dan’s sister Gwen is the only person from the old neighborhood who’s back.

Gwen & Xy

But I digress…

After Katrina, in the spring of ought-six, after we’d returned to our home and there wasn’t hardly anyone living for many blocks in any direction, at this desperate and hopeful time, Walter started coming around.

A truly remarkable human being, Walter. Incredibly tall, incredibly lean, old, muscular, dark and handsome, and from some deep country part of Louisiana such that I couldn’t understand a word he said, not but maybe one word in ten.


Walter wasn’t particular about payment. He always said we should pay what we wanted, even if it was nothing, and the Good Lord would take care of the rest. All told, we probably gave him about $20 a month, plus the odd shot of whiskey now and again. He tended not only our little postage stamp of grass, but also the rampant vegetation encroaching from Craig’s yard.

Craig isn’t coming back to New Orleans. More on that later.

The last time I saw Walter was December of ought-six.

He said he was going to be back by our place on Christmas Eve, his birthday.

But that didn’t happen.

We haven’t seen Walter since.

So this Easter, we cut the grass in front of our house ourselves for the first time. We cut it manually, with a big pair of shears. Given that it’s less than five square yards, we didn’t break a sweat, especially given the freak cold snap. Yesterday Xy played in the sleet. She said it was fun. It freaked me out. Sleet in New Orleans in April!

I want to be clear that I’m not complaining about having to cut my own grass. Our patch of yard is so small it’s nothing to complain about. We never sought helpers to do this chore. They sought us out. They took the initiative.

I miss Dan, and now I’m wondering what happened to Walter.


Where is he now? Is he still alive?

I don’t know exactly where he lived, except that it was some distance from us but still in the Mid-City neighborhood, maybe ten blocks away.

Salcedo Street Party

The neighbors across the street had a birthday party for their three-year old daughter yesterday. It brought a touch of color and festivity to our neighborhood which remains about 75% uninhabited.


We gave the little girl a fiver. Later in the day they sent over some plates full of good home-cooked food: pork chops, jambalaya, pasta and stuffed peppers. Yum.