Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Losing My Marbles

For the last week, I've been carrying a couple of marbles around in my pocket. Every so often, I'll reach in and roll them around, then smile. Since the storm, the marbles served to demonstrate the degree to which my house was pitched to one side, not that they were really necessary; all you had to do was look at it or walk inside to feel the pull.

This issue has remained unsettled with State Farm for the last year, but I recently got the go-ahead from my lawyer to get the work done. I hired Davies Shoring to straighten it out and the job was subcontracted to a company called HG Underpinnings, Inc., USA - Building Movers. The slogan on the trucks: We're up to the task. They came last Monday and worked from dawn till after dark in the intermittent rain. Despite the USA in company's name, only one guy in the crew spoke English. The rest, including a man who came by and was introduced to me as the owner, spoke only French. They're all from Canada. Um, whatever made me think that all French-speaking Canadians would also speak English? Muse? Am I that much of an idiot?

New Bases Installed
After two days of non-stop work, the house is level. After 17 months of crookedness, I am absolutely giddy about this. Every time I've been in the house for the last week, I've reached in my pocket, fished out the marbles, dropped them on the floor, and then done the butt-shakin' dance when they just sat where they fell. No rolling. Amazing. And I've done this little demonstration at every opportunity, much to the amusement of my audience.

It's funny to me how much we've adapted to the old tilt of this house. Having it righted feels strange to us now. My body still wants to gravitate to the right to compensate for the pull toPiers Askew the left. Alex has finally stopped insisting something is wrong with the house now that it's fixed and has reconciled himself to the fact that he'd become used to it being off kilter. Before we know it, we'll forget what it felt like when it was racked.

Fixing the foundation was not as simple as pie, and we knew this going in. The chimney was going to be a big problem. Since the house is 100+ years old, all the masonry was constructed using lime-sand mortar. This stuff crumbles pretty easily (and the brackish flood waters probably didn't help), and it was clear that if they tried to raise the chimney to get everything leveled, it mortar would crumble and it would collapse. I loved the exposedNow The Piers Are Straight and New bricks in the house's interior and really didn't want to lose any more of the historical architecture. The solution was to use the chimney as the pivot-point and to level around it, raising one side and lowering the other.

So, the chimney survived, and the house is level to within 1/8" in most places and 1/4" in a couple of spots. Good enough for me. But if I thought the walls and ceilings were messed up before, it's nothing compared to their state now. I expected this. The gaps at the chimney are a little disconcerting, and the porch (which supports the balcony) now has cracks that span an inch or more. Oh, and a bunch of pipes burst during the process, too. And (happily) only one of the marble tiles on the downstairs bathroom wall cracked, but that may be a moot point, given the other problems in that room.My Chimey

A major structural problem also emerged following this procedure. Apparently, some work was done on the kitchen before I bought the house, probably when the den was added on. Whoever did it framed some things wrong and some idiot sawed 3/4 of the way through some of the studs on the outer wall (while on the wall of or off, I don't know), but decided that they were okay to use without "sistering" them. (I'm learning a lot about this kind of stuff.) There was a lot of water infiltration on the back wall and it's taken its toll on the old, untreated wood, plus the bad framing job left inadequate support in the corner where these two walls meet. And can you guess what happens to sit directly above this spot? Nothing other than the bathroom with the 400 to 500-pound cast-iron, claw-footed bathtub. Lovely. So, now the entire wall bows outward from top to bottom and from side to side.

Anyway, now that the foundation is done, at least I can begin the rest of the work --if I'm not driven mad first by the scope of it and the awareness of my single-mommy-female vulnerability to the charlatan contractor types out there who look at me and start salivating as their mental cash registers start cha-chinging away.

Let me remind you what needs to be done here:
Wavy, Rippled Floors
With the exception of the den, the walls and ceilings in every room in the house need to be gutted. We're talking about 3-coat horsehair plaster over wood lath in a large foyer, living room, dinning room, kitchen (already done), three bedrooms, upstairs hall and stairwell, and two bathrooms. There is lead-based paint under the latex and I'm hoping it won't be a problem. Then the walls have to be insulated, drywalled, painted and trimmed. And the insulation under the house has to be replaced, too.

All the wood floors have to be sanded and refinished to get the little ripples out of them --yes, all of them, because water infiltration from the roof and excessive moisture messed the upstairs floors up, too, which means the entire house's floors, with exception of the den and bathrooms, must be refinished. The wiring that got wet in the walls, ceilings and under the house has to be replaced, the plumbing needs to be fixed, and oh, because of the leaky roof, all the attic insulation has to be replaced, too. And a few doors need to be rehung now. And one of the central heat units got soaked when the roof vents blew off and it needs to be replaced. And the entire kitchen needs to be re-outfitted --cabinets, counters, appliances --the works. It's just an empty room right now.

One Of My Screens After the Storm (10-05-05)Outside, new siding and fascia are needed in some spots, new paint all over, (when wood gets soaked with water, all your paint peels off), new screens, new shutters, new roof, new gutters, re-glaze the windows---gee, what am I forgetting? Oh, there's the mess in the downstairs bathroom which involves the rest of the marble tiling and how the tub is seated in its spot, all the result of both the house's shifting during the storm and the recent leveling . (Think *big gaps.*) And the flooded central A/C units and hot water heater need to be replaced.

So, it's almost like we're starting from scratch here. By the way, I'm talking about the main part of the house and not the den, which is an addition and needs its own share of repairs, too. Aside from the chimney, most of frame and most of the siding, everything will either be repaired (floors) or replaced. Every knowledgeable person who's walked into my house -- the structural engineers, the various contractors, the insurance adjusters, and even the SBA inspector -- has shaken his head woefully and asked me if I had any grasp of the scope of work needed to be done. This freaks me out because I can only imagine what it must be like for the people who had water to their ceilings. Mine only came up to the floor joists.

So, accepting the reality of the house finally being level allows me to lose the marbles I've been carrying around in my pocket. But I'm a little worried that dealing with what comes next may cause me to lose the *other* ones, too.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Good, Bad, Happy, Sad

There's been so much going on these days and I have much to tell. But for now, I just want to add my voice to all those saying thanks to the New Orleans Saints for this incredible season and for how it energized this city.

This city's fans are the best. Ashley, the embodiment of real, honest-to-goodness Saints-love, posted an article that made me cry. It says so much about who we are.

Ray also had a perfect post-script
to the season and I agree with his conclusions. We got an amazing high from this team this season--amazing-- and we didn't even go all the way. That means there's more to look forward to.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Saints Mania

Saints Mania in My Neighborhood
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
It's everywhere and my neighborhood is in on the spirit. (My real neighborhood, not my temporary one.) Check out the fleurs de lis on that fence. They painted half of them gold.

Yes, everywhere you go, people are wearing their black and gold.

Adrastos has the full rundown on Saints Mania in the blogosphere.

I hope someone takes pictures of Loki in his Saintsation get-up.

We are going to win this thing, y'all!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Thank You.

If it weren't for you...

...he may never have happened.

Thank you.

Yes, my beloved son has given up his mighty afro for care-free dreadlocks.

Yes, I know I'm kinda late with this post, but I've been tied up all day.

And yes, this really is a mother/son portrait. (Look closely.)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

40 Years in the Desert and We Can Finally See the Promised Land

I tried really hard to find a picture of Holy Moses, our most famous Saints fan, but with no luck.

On November 10, 1967, the New Orleans Saints won their first game of their first season. They defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 31 to 24. My dad took this photo the day of that game.

(Pictured from right to left, my brother Michael, Andrea, his future wife, my sister Danna, and Joey, her future ex-boyfriend. Somewhere there's a version of this shot with little 5 year-old me in it, but I couldn't find it, either.)

Today, after 40 years of pain, after the Saints have made history by defeating the Eagles once more, advancing to the final four. Next week, we play for the conference championship. If we win, it's off to the ...the... the...


Honestly, I just cannot get my head around this. After all this time, after the bag-head seasons and the close-but-no-cigar seasons, the idea is just blowing my circuits.

Tonight's game almost killed me. I mean that. I had so much adrenaline pumping through my veins that I thought I was going to blow a major artery. I had to get the yoga mat out and at one point, I actually had to start doing headstands to get myself calmed.

And I know I wasn't the only one who suffered through this one. Jebus! What a game. It's going to take the whole weak to recover from the stress. Mom said she's going to put Xanax in the kingcake for next weekend's game.

I was a little disappointed in how the team played tonight, with the exception of the faked punt. But needless to say, I'm just thrilled beyond belief that we've made it this far.


Deuce McAlister should be canonized (really!) for his role in the win.

Here's the 2007 version of the Saints Defeat the Eagles sofa picture. It was lovely being in the middle of this mother-daughter sandwich. I didn't shrink, I'm just slouched way down. Mom's fun to watch a game with, but it's hard to keep Rachel still.

All the way!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

And I'm So Proud of Them.
All of Them.

Photo by Humid City (Loki/Alexis). Cropped and tweaked a little by me.

Today would have been my father's 80th birthday and I would have posted something about him here, now, but there's something far more important that I have to celebrate: The beautiful solidarity of my people. My people. Yes, I'm talking about my NOLA Blog Brothers and Sisters, but not just them because they're just one part of the whole of it. I'm talking about all the good people of my city New Orleans, those who were present in great numbers at today's march against crime, and those who were there in spirit. They all count. I was one of those there is spirit. But I swelled with pride and could not stop the tears as I watched the news broadcast of citizens from across the spectrum of race and class assemble at City Hall to send the clear message to the Powers That Be that we've had enough.

Bart Everson addresses the crowd. Photo by Alan Guiterrez.

Two of today's speakers came from the ranks of the NOLA bloggers. Bart Everson (aka Editor B of B-Rox) gave a very moving speech and Karen Gadbois (Northwest Carrollton) also spoke, and from what I heard, didn't mince her words. The mayor and other city officials were not offered a turn at the podium. I was happy to See Ray Nagin (for a change) with that tail-between-the-legs look on his face as he stood and listened. You can read Bart's speech here, and watch his interview with Anderson Cooper here. I hope someone captured Karen's speech or a transcript is eventually posted somewhere.

Karen Gadbois speaks. Photo by Humid City (Loki/Alexis).

By the way, I'm glad that a certain assumption about this event was wrong. Very wrong.

An impressive showing from Central City. Photo by Mark Folse of Wet Bank Guide.

I'm still so disappointed that I couldn't attend. This is the just the kind of event that ignites a fire in me. But the NOLA bloggers were out in force and The Mighty Adrastos was taking names... NOLA Slate, Traveling Mermaid, Dangerblond, Loki, Maitri, El Senor Wet, Celcus, Ashley, Morwen, Alan, Schroeder, Varg, Michael Homan and from Houma, Donnie McDaniel. I'm sure I'm missing someone...

Be sure to click on those names to read their impressions of the day.

Here are shots of some of our fine NOLA bloggers in action. You can see lots more pictures in the Silence is Violence pool on Flickr. I know lots more of the blog crew took pictures that are not in the pool and I hope they'll be added soon. I saw some great ones taken by Derek (spouse of G-Bitch.)

Representin': Adrastos, Gentilly Girl and Ashley Morris. Photo by Mark Folse of Wet Bank Guide.

Guess which one is Dangerblond... Photo by Humid City (Loki/Alexis).

Holding signs, red-shirted Maitri, (and that's D on her right), Half-Hidden Loki, and Adrastos. Photo by Humid City (Loki/Alexis).

You can see Loki's face this time... Photo by Humid City (Loki/Alexis).

Again, my thanks to Bart and Karen and to the others who spoke out, and to all 3000 or so of you who participated. Thanks you for showing up and for speaking out on behalf of the victims who are no longer here to speak for themselves and for all of us who care deeply but couldn't be there. Right now I'm so filled with love for my city and its people. Today was the first day in a long time that I wept, but without sorrow or sadness.

Update: I heard an estimate of 5000 people in attendance on NPR morning edition. I can't remember a time when any kind of local activism produced this kind of turnout.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The story I didn't write about Janice.

Janice was the tenant and close friend of one of my closest friends, who, believe it or not, is also named Janice. For the sake of clarity, I'll refer to my friend as JR and Janice the tenant will just be Janice. (And yes, O Man of Past Imperfection-- I see you have removed your name and the picture from your blog -- this is "our" Janice R., the one who introduced us way back when we all happened to be hanging out in South Beach one fateful weekend.)

Every Christmas Eve, JR would have a gathering of friends. Many of them I knew well, others I came to know from this yearly event and the occasional get-togethers JR would have throughout the year. It was on one such Christmas Eve that I met Janice.

Janice was smart, warm and friendly --the kind of person who's easy to talk to and you just feel good being around. This is her story, as told to me by JR.

When The Storm hit, Janice rode it out in her half of the Pastueur Blvd. double that JR owned. After it passed, Janice called JR to report that she was okay, but a tree had fallen on the back on the house, on JR's side. The power was out and it was hot. A cool bath and a nap might be in order.

Then the levees broke.

My Friend Janice's House
JR's side of the house after the flood.

JR's house is not too far from the London Ave. Canal breech. By the time Janice realized what was happening, the furniture was starting to float and the water was rising fast. At just barely 5 feet tall, it was difficult for her to move around in the water so she started to climb on top of things. Janice knew she had to get out, but getting to the door from her bedroom proved to be more difficult than she thought. She broke a window and pushed herself out, but in the process, her robe got caught on something and came off. Janice found herself in the water completely naked.

The water was still flowing and churning from the breech and had become too deep for Janice to find anything stable to stand on, but not deep enough for her to climb on a roof. As she struggled in the water, she heard the cries for help coming from a neighbor's house but could do nothing to help. (She later learned that one of the two residents of the house drowned.) Eventually, Janice found a floating object to hold on to and she spent the next couple of days in the water until a man came along in a boat and plucked her out. She was delirious and covered with cuts and bruises. She was still naked but had some kind of article of clothing around her neck. She couldn't remember how it got there.

Janice's rescuer apparently lived in the area and had used his boat to pick up a few other people as well. They'd found a building nearby with an accessible second floor where they waited a couple of days in hope of a rescue. When none came, the group became convinced that they'd die if they stayed in the building. Everyone assumed that there was no dry land anywhere, which was a rational assumption considering the depth of the water in the area--just look at the picture of JR's house, which is on piers and not a slab. So, it was decided that their best bet was to try to get to UNO, where they might at least be able to hunt down some food and water.

Five days had elapsed from the time the levees broke and the groups arrival at UNO. They found half the campus submerged and the other half dry and filled with many desperate people, just like themselves. An evacuation center had been established in the newly constructed business building, the same building that houses my office (then and now). People were being taken from this location to the airport (Louis Armstrong International, our main airport), and then evacuated to anywhere-but-here. (You didn't get to choose your destination and many times you did know where you were going until you got there.)

Through this ordeal, Janice's rescuer had become very attached to her and had promised to stay with her until she was in a safe place with people she trusted. When they arrived at Armstrong, Janice was still having a tough time grasping the scope of the situation. She assumed they were being sent out on a commercial flight and was mortified at the idea of getting on a plane in her condition --weak, filthy, smelly, cut, bruised and in (someone else's) clothing scrounged by her new friend. No one else seemed to be as disheveled as she perceived herself to be.

They boarded the flight and before it took off, Janice nudged her newfound friend and told him that she thought she might now be hallucinating. "Do you see that man standing up there in the aisle? Who is it that man? Tell me who you see."

"That's Al Gore," replied Rescue Man.

And it was. Janice was one of the 270 people evacuated on two jets chartered by Al Gore. The story didn't make the mainstream media because Gore didn't want it politicized, but TPM Cafe has a detailed, behind-the-scenes account.

Janice was hospitalized and treated for her injuries in Tennessee. After her release, she went to Oklahoma, where she had family. Everyone agreed that it was amazing that she'd survived.

I've never written about this before because there are just so many amazing stories of people who survived the hell that this city became when the levees broke. I could tell the stories of at least a dozen or more other friends who had horrific experiences --like Renee, my beloved department secretary at UNO who spent 5 days on her brother's roof in the same neighborhood as Janice, before being air-lifted out. Or my friend Paul, who told me how weird it was to see shrimp swim around his living room and mullets jump in his driveway while he waited with his sister and 80-something-year-old parents to be rescued by boat from the attic of their Florida Blvd. home. There are so many stories like that. And I wish I could end Janice's story here. But I can't.

On Christmas Eve, my phone rang. It was JR calling in lieu of our annual gathering, just as she did last year. But this year, the sadness in her voice was sobering, but not as much as what she would tell me.

On November 15, 2006, Hurricane Katrina claimed another victim. Janice died in Oklahoma of the injuries she sustained in the flood. The wounds never healed and nothing her doctors did could control the infections that took over her body. She fought for almost 15 months and lost. She was 51 years old.

I wonder how many others have died from effects of The Storm that didn't manifest themselves until much later? I remember seeing a story in the T-P just after we returned from Virginia about a guy, a police officer I think, who died from a flood-related infection. He was in his 20s. This had to be at least 6 months post-K. Joel Neville's cancer was in remission before the storm. Same thing with our department secretary; her cancer came back after her ordeal and she's been back in chemo. I know of many elder Orleanians, friends of my parents, who appear to have just given up, as if they died of broken hearts.

There are so many broken hearts here now. Too many.

How do we heal the wounds that no one can see?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Mother, Mother, There's Too Many Of You Crying...

What's going on???

How many murders does it take to kill the hope and spirit of a people? Will 12 in a 7 day period do it? Can 8 murders in the first 5 days of the year accomplish this? How about 6 in a 24 hour period? Does it matter any less if it's a thug with a handful of heroin and crack who's been shot by a rival rather than a young mother who had been asleep in her bed moments before the gunman opened fire? Does it matter if it's a crime of passion? Does it matter if the victim is black or white? Does it matter if the assailant knew his victim or not? Does the victim have to die, or is it enough that he's been shot by someone who had the intent to kill?

I was still stunned and saddened by the senseless death of Helen Hill and the shooting of her husband, Paul Gailiunas. They were good people. I haven't been able to stop thinking about their baby being without his mother. When I rule the world, little children will never lose their parents, especially their mothers, and no parents will ever have to bury their child.

I was still reeling from this when I drove Rachel to school this morning. I took our usual route down River Road to Leake Ave., then left on Pitt St. to Broadway so I don't have to go against the traffic flow when I drop her off at the Garfield St. gate. Except today, I only made it one block down Pitt before I hit a sea of police cars, news trucks and a barrier of yellow crime scene tape.

Woman killed in Uptown home. Why does she get the Metro section and not the front page? Oh, wait. She's black. Forget I asked. Most of this article is an update on other murders around town, and the count is amended from 8 so far this year to 7, since the redheaded woman whose body they found dumped in the Lower 9th appears to have been beaten to death on December 30th or 31st. Do you feel better now that it's just 7 again? (But don't forget to add one more to last year's figure, folks.)

So, in the last week, 3 of the 8 murder victims have been women. That's 37.5%. This really disturbs me --almost as much as the videos on NOLA-dishu's post did. Check out his 2006 and 2007 crime maps while you're at it.

This is a lot to deal with in one big gulp. (But I'm not entertaining thoughts of bailing on this city.)

Death has been an all too common theme.

I haven't been writing about this stuff because it just makes me too sad and I really don't need any more sadness. That's why I didn't post anything when Ed Bradley died. The last time I mentioned him, it was in a post about how out-of-whack my first Post-K Jazz Fest was. My annual ritual of inviting him to dinner was the only thing that felt "normal" to me. Now he's gone and what may turn out to be my last remaining Jazz Fest ritual has gone with him. He was a good man and I'll really miss him. I hope his wife Patricia continues to make the annual pilgrimage. I have a feeling that she will.

Today, Joel Neville died. Joel is Ivan Neville"s mom and Aaron Neville's wife. If you've been reading here for a while, then you know that Ivan and I were involved in the early 1980's, until he sent me on the great rebound into Willie's waiting arms. (Willie was counting on that happening and eventually confessed that it was all part of his Grand Plan.)

By the way, the picture of Ivan is from around the time that he and I were involved. The weird thing is that Alex (my son) looks a lot like Ivan did then, now that he's dreaded his hair. And no, don't get any ideas. That relationship was long over by the time Alex came along. My son got his high cheekbones from me. It just so happens that Ivan has them too (though they're a little harder to see these days.) If I can get Alex to consent to a picture, (which ain't easy) I'll post it and you'll see what I mean about the resemblance.

Anyway, Joel really made me feel like part of the family, and believe me, she had the power to keep you way on the outskirts of the scene if she didn't like you. Despite the fact that Ivan and I never came close to anything resembling marriage, (though we lived together for part of 1983), I once overheard Joel refer to me as "her little ex-daughter-in-law." Did that ever make me feel the love. I have a lot of fond memories of Joel making me laugh and laugh when the "bandwives" would chat it up backstage.

Joel was not a smoker, but she died of lung cancer. I can attest to the amount of second-hand smoke she was exposed to. She never missed a gig. The cancer had gone into remission until The Storm hit and she and Aaron relocated to Nashville. I was told that before she died, she said she just wanted to come home. She didn't make it.

Rest in peace, Joel.

I've got one more sad story that I haven't told, but need to. That one will be next.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year 2007

Happy New Year 2007
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
I took this picture from my mother's side door, looking west toward the back yard. You can see the tree branches and the eagle weathervane on the roof of the studio. The view to the east was almost as spectacular.

I'm dumbfounded by how much money people around here spent on fireworks. When this display ended, Rachel and I could hear the loud cheers of people from all around. We joined them for, indeed, it was awesome. And we didn't have to leave "home."

Now it's time for black-eyed peas and cabbage rolls. Between rate hikes from Entergy and the insurance industry, looks like all of us here in NOLA are going to need lots of luck and money this year. And since no one waits until Twelfth Night / Epiphany / King's Day anymore, tomorrow I'm getting a King Cake. Mmmmmmm!

Happy New Year, everyone! 2007 is definitely going to be better than 2006 was. It HAS to be.