Irks, Delights and Frights
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.