I was heartened to read a positive story on the front of today’s paper about Dr. Jeff Wiese, who drove around the country for months after Katrina and pretty much saved the residency program at the Tulane School of Medicine. Now the residents are trying to fill in the gap left by the closure of Charity Hospital. He’s a hero. I’ve admired the good doctor for some years; he is the foremost researcher into the mysteries of the alcohol hangover. The paper doesn’t mention that good work. I guess they’re pandering to those puritans from Pennsylvania.
I’m in the paper today too. It’s the 14th story or so about our renovation.
Long Road Home
By Stephanie Bruno, Contributing writer
Note: Work on Bart Everson and Christy Paxson’s Mid-City house has proceeded in fits and starts over the past months. And while the couple has taken their personal rebuilding woes in stride, lack of progress in the city has them questioning the future.
Though Bart Everson started 2007 with a hangover from the Orleans Ave. bonfire celebration, he felt more or less optimistic. He was engaged in a number of civic matters and planning efforts, work was proceeding on his house, and, though old neighbors were gone, new neighbors were gradually filling his neighborhood.
But a rash of violence in the city – including the murders of Everson’s friend Helen Hill and drummer Dick Shavers – put a sudden end to the upward momentum and left him questioning whether New Orleans should still be his home.
“I feel a certain amount of shame because it wasn’t until Helen was killed that I thought through what violence means. We all sort of accept it, until it happens to someone we know. You read about it all the time and you’re aware of it, but you don’t really feel it until it touches you,” he said.
Since the early January tragedies, Everson has involved himself in citizen-led efforts to put an end to the violence and effect permanent social change. He and other friends organized a march from Hill’s house to City Hall, designed to feed into the larger march protesting the spiraling violence, and were joined by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Dozens of interviews followed. “I must have talked to a hundred reporters. One was from the largest newspaper in Poland. I got calls from the Canadian press. Helen’s husband Paul Gailiunas is from Vancouver and the press wanted to try to understand how something like this could happen to a Canadian who came down here to try to make this a better place.”
Most reporters have been respectful and have asked sober, insightful questions. “But there have been others that were positively lurid,” Everson explained. “For instance I was in the supermarket and I grabbed a tabloid
with a photo of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on the cover. It said something like ‘Brad and Angelina in danger in murder city, USA.’ Inside was a photo of Helen with an arrow drawn to a coffin.”
Everson says that the sickening events of early January have led him to question whether being in New Orleans is the right decision for him and his wife. “I tend to be more introspective than Christy and the last month has been dominated by a lot of soul searching about what we’re doing here. Why did we come back and are we going to stay? We never questioned whether we would come back after the storm, but it’s different now.”
What has buoyed Everson somewhat, he says, are the broad-based, grass-roots initiatives to change things. “Take the march for example. It was organized in a very short time, yet look how many people came.”
Sometimes for Everson, it is a simple person-to-person exchange that encourages him. “This sounds really weird because it was such a solemn event. But someone came up to me after the march on city hall and handed me a bunch of switchplates for push button light switches. They had read in the paper that I was going to install them in the house and was going to buy them on eBay. Right then and there, he gave me some switchplates he had gathered together for me. It was really moving.”
The person at city hall was not the only one to give Everson push button switchplates since he announced his quest to acquire them in InsideOut. “I still need about a dozen, but I have quite a collection now, all different
kinds. One is even mirrored. The variety suits our style – in fact, every knob in our kitchen is different so why shouldn’t the switchplates be?”
Everson’s contractor Mike Kaplan has been on site and working for most of the past month. “There’s real progress to see,” Everson reported. “The sheetrock is up, taped and floated. They did have to tear some out to fix the plumbing, just as I had thought they might. And I have a sneaking suspicion they might have to do it again. But even so, we are the point where Mike’s carpenter is asking me, ‘So . what were you thinking of for the trim?'”
Humor returns briefly to Everson’s voice as he describes the exchange with the carpenter. But then seriousness returns and he draws a correlation between the progress on his own home and that of the city. “We have been very patient with rebuilding our house,” he commented, “but I think maybe we’ve all been a bit too patient with rebuilding our city. It’s time we demand more accountability and action. Or we risk losing it all.”
Stephanie Bruno can be reached at email@example.com