Thursday, March 23, 2006


Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
Every night, around 10:00 PM, the bird-feeder attached to the french doors on the back of my mother's house becomes a rat-feeder. This is Ratilda. None of us are fond of rats, but her frequent visits have endeared her to us. And if you can ignore the icky tail, she really is kinda cute.

One of the neighborhood cats has been stalking her. How long she'll last remains to be seen...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I Miss the Old Days...

Remember the good old days? When I posted about politics, relationship issues, and plain old goofy things like the wonders of Mattel and their ever-pleasing Barbie Collection? Well, I still get a good bit of traffic from people doing Google image searches and looking at the Barbie pictures (but probably not the blog itself). The latest stats show such visitors came from Slovakia, Poland, The Czech Rebublic, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Mexico, France, The UK, Germany, Finland, Slovenia, Italy, Denmark, and Russia. Then there are the rest of you, my few regulars who I know, and those anonymous visitors who I have no clue about. I'd like to please you all with some pithy prose, but my life is not inspiring much of that these days. So, I offer you a few new Barbies from Mattel's archives as a little sugar to help the unpalatable report of news from the homefront go down a little more easily. And here they are!

I have chosen the following names for them, and I encourage you to submit your own suggestions for names of these dolls.

I call this one the "Long Island Barbie." (She's 48 and half Italian, half Irish, I think.)

This one is the "Post- Jenny Craig, Monica Lewinsky" Barbie.

And finally, the "I Only Married Him for His Money" Barbie. She's also frigid.

Again, please feel free to submit your own names. I really liked Richard's submissions the last time I did this.

Now, here's the quickie on what's going on here. Maybe if I bullet them, it will incline me toward being succinct.

  • The estimates are coming in on the house leveling and foundation repair. If I do it the way the civil engineer suggests, the latest bid was $54,000. I don't have yet have the stomach to address this with the insurance company, as I've been told I should prepare to fight.
  • The SBA (which handles disaster loans for FEMA) sent a building inspector to my house to determine the extent of the damage in order to establish the limits of what I could borrow. The inspector said he was putting me down for a complete rebuild. Yes, you read that right. Because of the extent of the wind damage and the foundation problems, he is recommending that I tear down and rebuild and is authorizing a loan in the amount necessary to do that. He said I don't have to tear it down, I can just fix it, but he expects it to cost a lot more than my insurance will pay. I already knew this, but his assessment absolutely freaked me out.
  • I may have a temporary contract job offer coming as a project manager for Cox Cable, our local cable and internet provider. As I understand it, it involves the logistics of getting cable set up in the various FEMA trailer developments in and around the city. They are in various states of readiness and have to be monitored as they progress. I'm lacking a lot of the details, and since it's a contract position, I will have no benefits. I desperately need health insurance! But I'll take an income right now, with or without it. Oh, I would feel so much better with a decent income. A stable income would be even better. But anything is better than my piddly unemployment, which is a whopping $157 per week. I work on my house every day -there is so much to do there - and I guess it's good to have something coming in while I try to get things under control on the homefront. And I think this gig will give me the flexibility I need for my kids.
  • Speaking of kids, my daughter is beginning to show some of the early signs of puberty. (Armpit hair, and what appear to be the early signs of budding breasts -not too noticeable, thank God!) How did this happen??? This is the baby. My baby! It seems too early. She's not supposed to be growing up this fast! She'll be 10 this summer and that alone is hard enough for me to digest, but my baby girl entering puberty is just toooo much!
I took this picture of my girl last week and found it rather striking for two reasons. First, I think she looks older in it than she does in person. Almost like a glimpse of the future. And second, I usually don't see how she looks like me, though most others do. I see her dad more than anything. But in this picture, I can actually see myself in her too. In fact, it's a haunting combination of the two of us, so much so that I find myself staring at it. Or maybe, upon looking closer, what really haunts me is the part of him I see. Well, it's more than that. It's almost like I'm not seeing my daughter but seeing something on the level beyond her, on the level that made her. I know she is literally the embodiment of her father and me, but if you can approach this from a higher place, the perspective of the love that made her, you might get what this picture is doing to me.

I've never really discussed my relationship with her father here, but if you surmised that it was a powerful and singular kind of experience, you'd be right. And for now, I'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Interlude: A Tale of Two Cities

Yes, yes, it's two posts in one day. Don't faint. I'm considering going for three.

While perusing Richard's many wonderful posts on Electronic Ephemera, I found this one, which links to this site, showcasing interesting things written on walls. (If you're not checking EE out on a regular basis, you're missing all kinds of interesting and at times truly bizare stuff!) Anyway, it reminded me that, way back in August, before The Big Event, I had obtained permission to reproduce a photo and post that Chris Martel had on the New Orleans Metroblog. It's so typically New Orleans, or at least it was so in the pre-K days, and because it's such an honest piece of what I regard as real New Orleans, I fell in love with it.

So, I reproduce it here, just as Chris did in his original post.
Somewhere in Manhattan.

Warehouse District, New Orleans. Note the emphasis on "dog."

Yep, that pretty much says it all. Thanks again, Chris.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Irks, Delights and Frights

Separation Anxiety
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
Frightful Foundations

Before Mardi Gras, a friend called me with info on a contractor and a foundation company that he'd used and with whom he'd been very pleased. I called the foundation guy first and to my utter joy, he was in my neighborhood and would come by that afternoon. I was so elated at the thought that I'd actually get someone out that same day that I jumped up and down and did the butt-shakin' dance around my mother's den for a good five minutes.

At 1:00 PM sharp, he arrived and began to scope the property. And as he did, he began to shake his head. Uh oh. The piers are cracked and skewed, twisted and tilted. I'd noticed this and also noticed that the clearance between the ground and the sills on the left side of my house seemed smaller than I remembered. We went inside and he looked worried. He shot a laser across my foyer and living room, then measured the beam's height on each side. The front-left side of my house sat 8" lower than the right. He walked through the entire house and checked the walls and floors. Then he told me he had good news and bad news.

Bad news first. My house is racked. Definition: forced out of shape or out of plumb. Floors and walls are warped. Okay. I thought the house had subsided from sitting in the flood waters for so long. But I didn't really get it. Bad news, part two: fixing the problem was a bigger job than his company could handle. But if he did procure the necessary equipment and crew for the job, I was looking at a price tag in the neighborhood of $40,000.

I almost fainted.

Flood insurance doesn't cover subsidence. Foundation Guy said that I really needed to have the house evaluated by a structural engineer to determine how it got in this condition and he gave me the name and number of someone. Oh, and there was no good news.

On Mardi Gras day, while milling about the French Quarter, I ran into my friend, Ivan Mandich. (He's from Croatia and his name is pronounced "Eee-von.") I'd last seen him in August when he called me to do a bit in a film he was shooting for the Faulkner Festival which, hurricane notwithstanding, would have taken place in November. The first thing everyone asks each other in their first encounter post-Katrina is "how'd you make out?" He told me his story and I told him mine. And lo, what was his response? "Let me come and evaluate it and write up a report for you." I'd totally forgotten that in his real life, Ivan is a structural engineer!

So, Ivan came on Saturday and scoped the house thoroughly. And, much to my surprise, he said that the problem wasn't from flood-related subsidence. That would have made the piers sink straight down. No, it is from the wind! The wind literally blew so hard that it shifted the house on its foundation so that now it sits crookedly on the piers. This explains why the piers are cracked, tilted and twisted.

My house is narrow but long, 36 feet high (with the exception of the one-story den attached to the back), and situated on a corner, where it's exposed to the maximum, unbuffered force of the wind. Because the house is so heavy, the wind can't just push it off the piers, but it can push it such that the piers move with the house. Which part of the house moves most and which direction it moves depends on the direction of the wind and which part of the house takes the most force. Hurricane winds come from at least three different directions as the storm passes through. And since the shorter, one-story addition is not subject to the same wind effects because of its height, there is now a slight separation between it and the main part of the house.

So, the wind caused my house to become twisted on its foundation. Bad. Very bad. And it's still questionable as to whether or not my homeowner's insurance will cover it. And there's no point doing any of the repairs that insurance will cover, short of the roof repair, until this problem is resolved.

(You can click the first foundation picture for more info on what you're seeing.)

Neighborhood Frights and Delights

The week before Mardi Gras, a telephone company worker was working in the man-hole right in front of my house when a guy came up to the hole, pointed a gun at the worker, and demanded he come out and surrender all his money and valuables. Yikes! This kind of thing didn't ordinarily happen in my neighborhood before the storm, though in the adjacent neighborhood, gunshots were often heard presumably because of drug/thug-related activities. Petty thievery, on the other hand, was more common.

As an experiment, I placed a pair of broken long-handled yard clippers on the fence on the side of my house. You can't tell they're broken by looking at them because the only problem is that the blades don't meet sharply. It's been more than 2 weeks and the clippers are still there. I left my brand new garden gloves on the fence yesterday (by accident) and they were still there today. I've heard of other things that normally would have been stolen before a day passed staying put outside now. Go figure. The armed robbery is scary, but the disappearance of petty thievery delights me.

Next on the neighborhood watch, we learned that a guy that lived in one of the rentals on the side street (the bane of the neighborhood) got in an altercation with someone outside of the house one night and all the neighbors heard the other guy swear that he'd come back and kill him. Then, next thing I learn is that the neighbor guy is dead. No one knows where that happened, just that it did. The family had a memorial party in front of the house complete with a brass band, which was great (and I filmed it maybe I can post it at some point), but these people are loud and junky and hang out on the porch and in their cars drinking and throwing their trash on the street. And they seem to have a lot of thuggish friends hanging around. After the second-line party, my son, Alex (who, remember, is 17 years old and half black), said to me, "Mom, we've had lots of great black neighbors, but I think we're living across the street from niggaz now." Well, that was a first. I have a pretty strong aversion to the N-word, and somehow managed to raise this boy of mine such that by the time he was 12 years old he wasn't even aware of the word, but...well...I think he's right. Sometimes these units can to turn over rather quickly and I hope that the girlfriend and whoever else is living there decide to move on. But props to them for having a cool brass band play. It took some of the sting from the task of picking up all the trash they blittered on the side of my house. (The picture was shot through the dirty upstairs-bathroom window not long before the street festivities began.)

How I Spent My Weekend

The City of New Orleans has been picking up debris of all kinds placed out on the streets free of charge since the storm. Last month it was announced that debris pick-up would cease for my zip code on March 5th. Needless to say, everyone waited until the last minute to clean stuff out. Myself included. The reason in my case is that once you gut something, there's no turning back. But since I'd save the cost of having a contractor haul off the stuff, I decided to gut the room that would produce the most debris- my kitchen. Half of my kitchen cabinets were destroyed, I can't match them, and the kitchen needed to be renovated anyway.

Demolition. Could be fun and therapeutic. So, I tried to do it myself in other parts of the house at first, using a claw-hammer and a 10 pound, 3 foot-long, lead crowbar. I took down parts of the walls in the living room and along the staircase with these. I have a huge, ugly bruise on my left knee where the stupid crowbar fell and hit me.

The kitchen required things to be removed and disconnected and this was more of a job than I could handle alone. So I called my neighbor, Slim, who always helps me with this house things. I've known him since we moved into the house 18 years ago and he's become something akin to my "neighborhood father-figure." He always watches out for us.

Thankfully, Slim showed up with the right tool for the job- the kind of crowbar made for demolition. (I have no idea what that behemoth thing I have would be used for short of killing someone.) This is a dirty, wretched job. I am extremely sensitive to dust in general and to plaster dust in particular and had to wear three dust masks at once to get through it. The inside of the mask closest to my face was still dirty on the inside when I took it off and, judging from the state of my sinuses and chest this morning, some got through. But given the amount of dust this operation produced, I should just declare my triple mask set-up a success. And now the kitchen is down to the bare studs and at least one room's debris is on the curb waiting for pick up. There are piles like this all over my zip code.

So, now there's no turning back. The kitchen is gone. Coming up with a better layout for this room is a huge challenge because traffic flows right through the middle of it. In its previous incarnation, the kitchen was basically a square lined with counters and cabinets, with the sink on one side of the room and the stove and refrigerator on the opposite wall, and a big, empty space between them. I see all kinds of possibilities when I stand in that space, but I can't get past the problem of getting everything to fit without and still having the flow work out. If anyone out there is a design wiz or wants to try their hand at a good working design for a challenging space, say the word and I'll give you the specific details.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

For Most of the Rest of the World, It Was Just Another Tuesday

Mardi Gras 2006
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
But for us it was Mardi Gras. Renard and I rode bikes from my house to the French Quarter to see the goings-on.

I must take this opportunity to right a wrong perpetrated by the media as it related to the portrayal of Mardi Gras. Sure, there's Bourbon Street, with it's drunken college students and beads-for-breasts, a la girls-gone-wild. Somehow, that whole scene developed a life of its own over the years. But it's not what we locals consider real Mardi Gras.

Okay. Drinking is a big part of it for most people, though most locals tend to not get throwin'-up drunk. We start drinking pretty young in this town and by adulthood, most of us have mastered the art of titrating our doses of alcohol such that a happy buzz is sustained for the all-day party that can start as early as 6:00AM for some and last until the midnight curtain call. (Actually, partaking of drink is optional and the day's entertainment value is not lost on the sober, as Renard and I had all of a single glass of wine between the two of us and still enjoyed ourselves.)

Mardi Gras is about more than that. For me, most of the fun is in the creative expression the day inspires- from the Mardi Gras Indians to the costumed folks in the French Quarter (outside of Bourbon Street, that is) and the gathering of bohemians on Frenchman Street. There are no rules. Beauty, humor, cleverness, vulgarity, bad taste, irreverence, all are equally embraced. On this day, we let it all hang out without fear of judgment. Straight men can dress in drag, gay men can wear their most raunchy and scant S&M gear or the garb of a Las Vegas showgirl on the street, the overweight can shake everything they've got. You just do what you want to. Make whatever statement you want to- personal, political or anything else. Just have fun! And if you can make it funny, irreverently funny, and do it in a uniquely creatively way, all the better. Plus, you'll get enough attention on this one day to last you until next year.

Every year, the doom and gloom Christians come down to tell us to repent because the end is near and we're all going to hell. One of my favorite things to do is to visit Jackson Square where there is invariably some activity in front of the cathedral. It's always entertaining to see the heathan response. And if you think you're not going to hell, better think again. Aparently, you're only safe if you're a republican adulterer. (Sorry adulteresses. You're going to hell.)

It's been a while since I've been a Mardi Gras participant, but it is a blast. I hoped to do it this year, but I've been too bogged down by real life to get anything together. However, I did enjoy being a spectator. Maybe next year...

I've got more pictures on Flickr, so feel free to peruse them.

Some people criticized us for having this celebration while so much of the city in still in ruin and struggling to recover from the disaster. But this is precisely why we needed to have it. This Mardi Gras was for us, the locals.

Life here is hard, tiring, frustrating, and depressing on a good day. After everything we've been through, Mardi Gras was a much needed pressure valve for us to blow off the steam we've been building up in the last six months.

Unfortunately, in the next post, I'll be back with the latest ugly developments in my efforts to get my house back in shape. But this was a nice break.