Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas, all! Simon and I are spending our holiday with my family in Atlanta--a fast and soulless city that nonetheless works. Well--with one exception: we could not find a place to watch the Saints game yesterday that wold broadcast the sound. No--they needed to listen to the depressing calls of the Falcons descending deeper into their pit of mediocrity. Still, we drank pints and watched the soundless game as happily as we could, sound or no. Mostly we wanted to be with other fans. There are 85,000 New Orleanians now living here, so you would think we could have found them. Anyway, the Saints stomped the Giants, and it was a fun game to watch (even in the ultra-lame ESPN Zone in Buckhead).

I have been feeling a lot older this Christmas. At the midnight service last night, I ran into the mother of a girl I used to babysit. Her daughter is now 23 and living with her boyfriend. Our usual Christmas traditions have taken either a hiatus or have permanently ended this year (a Christmas Eve dinner we've gone to since I was nine.) And we fought at the dinner table last night; not an adult event, but one that felt, somehow, like the result of us all getting older and more stubborn. It appears I have become my father's daughter to the umpteenth degree--and while I love him, the mean-streak I've developed is not a gene we wear proudly. We fought over who left the lights on. Yes, really. And now I want to go home. I'm hoping the gluttony and spoils of the day (I am always, always, spoiled when I come home) will change my mood.

Before we left, things were much more jolly. I'd started a post which I never finished. Here are its beginnings (from the 22nd):

Ah, the holidays... this is what I needed. Simon is in the kitchen (where a man belongs! ; ) making spaghetti, we've got family with us, and we spent a lovely day--strolling the Quarter, riding the Algiers ferry across the Mississippi, and (loudly) singing carols in Jackson Square.

Yesterday was not as jolly. It rained for hours and hours on end, and when we drove down to Holy Cross to see the house we've been considering buying, we discovered six inches of water covering the street and saturating the yard.

I was sad. We'd fallen in love with a house that the Preservation Resource Center will be renovating--a lovely little shotgun that was in the same family (whose German name suggests they may have been part of the substantial German immigrant population in Holy Cross) for 85 years. She's small, but the PRC has planned an addition that will allow us room for a family, and she backs up onto the now-abandoned site of Holy Cross school, which could become something wonderful--like a community center--or something lame (condos). Buying in Holy Cross is a gamble for many reasons. But for a couple of teacher with a hefty load of school-debt in tow, it's our only option--and it's one we're happy about, actually.

We'd discovered Holy Cross after I published a piece on my friends' website--a piece about realizing that we're a) grown-up and b) middle-class, and at the same time c) unable to afford a home on high ground in New Orleans. The neighborhood where we rent has become populated by a bunch of aggressive investment realtors out to make a buck off of renters, and also aggressive gentrifiers who call the police when they see more than two black people sitting on a stoop together. There are no longer children, and the artists that once populated the Marigny/Bywater can hardly afford to live here. While we CAN afford to live here (thanks to our kind landlords who are also dear friends), we don't want to live in this whitewashed neighborhood any longer.

The neighborhood association meetings here are mostly bitch-slapping bouts focused on aesthetic matters like roofing-style or policing dog-poop. In the months immediately following the storm, neighbors shrieked about their cable taking too long to be restored, and it felt, well, embarrassing.

Many of the most active neighbors here remind me of my entitled Tulane students--how they are ignorant of others' suffering, and therefore have an exaggerrated sense of their own suffering. Just as I chose to leave Tulane for a (less prestigious) job at UNO (where I love the students), I know want to leave the cat-fights here for the community we've found in Holy Cross.

Of course, there are also the more obvious reasons to leave our neighborhood: no parks, no green space, and one very loud train that we were once used to but that now seems all of a sudden to be louder, closer, and running more frequently. There's a sometimes-violent bar on the corner, too. And the traffic and the noise. And the house under perpetual renovation next door. And there's the wasted money on rent. Plus, I think we're just ready to go.

So anyway I wrote this piece for my friends' site, and in writing it I did research on what houses in the city we COULD afford. I put $150,000 as the price limit (too much, actually--we can't really afford that much) and found nothing but gutted and flooded homes. I kept looking, and soon two pretty renovations appeared in the Holy Cross neighborhood.

When I mention Holy Cross, folks generally want to know where it is. Holy Cross is a mile and a half east of us, just on the other side of the Industrial Canal. It's in the lower ninth ward. Yes-- that lower ninth ward. That is usually enough to have people asking why we would want to live there.

We want to live in Holy Cross because we can afford it, because it is on relative high ground, because it has access to walking trails along the levee, and because it is still diverse. We attended a neighborhood association meeting recently and when we left, I was glowing. I sang carols with Miss Maebell--a real, live old person living in the neighborhood. Simon and I painted pet rocks at the kiddy-table. We met diverse and kind neighbors. I glowed.

(...Here's where that previous, unfinished, post ends. I will continue the tales of our journey towards a home of our own soon.

In the meantime--I love you all, dear readers (Mom, Dannielle, and Mickey). Merry Christmas! Mickey, I hear that Henry's "sacbutt" (sp?) is in the shop. Nevermind--we'll make kick-butt music, all the same.)

Here's to a day of glowing! Oh, how I love to glow!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rest In Peace, Gus!

On Saturday--my Dad's birthday and the day of our annual holiday party--my mom called to say that our family cat of 17 years had been attacked by a dog in the driveway. They had to put him to sleep. Gus (short for "Generally Useless and Stupid") was a good cat. Fat and unhappy, but he gave the love freely, for sure. I picked him out with my dad when I was thirteen.

Gus did NOT deserve to go that way. Unfortunately, that he did means that this cat-lady is now even more anti-dog than I already was (the licking, the humping, the smell--I just have never really "gotten" dogs).

This is not the first cat I lost to a dog. In 1999, shortly after I moved into this house, I woke to hear a brawl outside. I was living alone--Sam was off travelling--and I got up, put on a robe, and went out to find four dogs emerging from the yard next door. I called for my cats--Poydras and Georgie--and only Georgie came. I remember I wnet in and grabbed some cat food to shake--the usual way I'd get the cats to come inside--but Poydras still didn't come. I felt like I heard a whimper at one point, but I still couldn't find her. After about an hour, I went back to bed, hopeful that Poydras was merely off with a new buddy.

The next day, when Poydras still didn't come when called, I walked around the neighborhood with the cat food. I remember that when I came home, I saw a stray in the yard next door. It was eating something dead. I went into my backyard, climbed a chair, and discovered Poydras--dead and being picked at by a stray. I wailed. I mean I wailed and wailed and wailed. My dear friend and fellow cat-lady, Jackie, came over and helped me bury Poydras. It took me a long time to recover from that one. In fact, there are certain images, certain memories (knowing, for instance, that my baby could hear me calling but couldn't answer) that I try not to recall. Losing Gus to a dog brought all of that up.

So this dog's name was "Beethoven," and it was his birthday, too. Evidently he belongs to the schizophrenic son of some neighbors who have struggled over whether or not to have him euthanized because he had already mauled another neighbor's cat (that one survived but now has just three legs). This we learned when they called to apologize about Gus and to ask for advice about what to do. It seems the son has not been doing very well lately, and the parents worry about what the loss of his dog would do to him. So they shared this on my parents' answering-machine, and now my mom is struggling with their own grief--and now the burden of knowing their own struggles, too.

Now, I am ultra-senstitive to the needs--and rights--of the mentally-ill. But I am frankly a little angry that the family chose to share this with my mom. An unfortunate trait that I share with my mom is perpetual guilt. We are empathetic to a fault. So I know exactly how she is feeling right now--torn. But why did the family have to share this? I'm sure they are genuinely struggling with what to do, but it almost feels manipulative that they would share this with my mom, who really should only be concerned with how to keep that dog away from other families' pets. My advice to my mom was to call and tell them that the decision to euthanize would have to be their own, but that we would like the dog to be removed from the neighborhood. Maybe they have friends or relatives with some land--and hopefully no helpless cats or kids around.

Sigh! It all just sucks a whole, whole lot. I know it was hard on my dad, too, who in the usual dad-fashion handled everything very well but said to me, "If I see that dog outside again... that's it." I share that unfortunate trait--blind rage--with my dad. And I know that if I were to see that dog, I'd have a really hard time not wailing on him something good. I am really tolerant, and very understanding of flaws and mistakes and all of that, but if someone or something hurts those I love, all that love and understanding gets compressed into rage, rage, rage. It's worse after the storm, too. So the bottom line is that the dog needs to go before Simon and I go to Atlanta for the holidays at week's end.

So on Saturday, while I made spinach dip, stuffed mushrooms, red-and-green cornflake treats, and hot cider, I put on a sad CD and allowed myself a good cry. Later, around the campfire, my friends listened to my rummy speech about the cat and we all "cheers"-ed to Gus and poured a little booze out for my kitty-homey. I have really very excellent friends.

There's so much more to tell--about our plans to move, about the state of the city and all things Katrina--but I am drained from the cat and dog episode, and also perhaps from the long semester. Now that I've had a few days to decompress, I feel more tired, not less. I have been slowly wrapping gifts, sleeping late, contemplating taking on any of the myriad tasks on my long list, and getting a whole lot of nothing done. Maybe it's the gray weather and all the fog. Maybe it's that I am really just tired and need to listen to my blues and sleep while the gettin's good. Who knows. For now, I'll make my way to the mountain of dishes in the kitchen, drag myself to a going away party that promises to be sadder than hell (another friend who's decided to leave the city...), and get up at the McCrackin' of dawn for a dentist's appointment.

Tis the season!(This, by the way, is our Christmas tree. Last year we got a real one because they were giving them away on Canal. This year, no more free trees. It appears even Santa has Katrina-fatigue. This one still gets the job done, though--and an added bonus was that it attracted buckmoths. Buckmoths come from the wretched and poisonous buckmoth caterpillar that rains from oak trees in New Orleans. While they are generally just vicious creatures, they make excellent ornaments! There: that's a cheerier ending!)

What I MEANT to say was 'TIS THE SEASON!!!!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Today was uplifting, thanks to my ESL students. It was our last class, and so we gathered for a party. Kanyaluk brought a spicy Thai "salad" (even the salads in Thai food are meaty); Prudencio brought a bubble-gum tasting lemonade from Peru; Naun brought sandwiches from the shop where he works as a line cook; I brought myself--and a stressed-out self at that.

The semester is ending, and so I have been swamped with grading piles of student papers and fielding panicked phone calls of students who should've decided to care a long time ago. These are my UNO students--and while some of them seem grateful for my teaching, they are nowhere near as enthusiastic about learning as my ESL students are. I will miss the ESL group, and I hope I'll have time to volunteer in the spring.

In addition to the happy fact that the semester is ending is our upcoming annual holiday party. This will be the fifth year I've thrown the party--and it may be the final year that the party will be held at this address. Our backyard is the perfect place to entertain. It's big, and the branches of a large oak tree in the back yard spread over the entire space. That canopy keeps us cozy in the winter air (yes, it does get cold in New Orleans), along with candles and a camp fire (and music and friends and hot cider with rum).

I get almost weepy thinking about leaving this backyard behind, but Simon and I have decided to move. The housing market has begin to favor buyers, and we have decided that 2007 will be a good time for us to move. We wish we could stay where we are, but the home has sentimental value to its owners. Of course, it does to us, too. But we'll be able to put down new roots, to make new connections.

I have such an attachment to place... I think it is the Taurus in me. And the Gemini in me flits about and is unfocused. I have so much to say, and yet I really need to get to bed and prepare for another day of school madness. I look forward to updating the blog soon--particularly to sharing the details of the beginnings of our search for a home--our first home!--in New Orleans. And I promise to add pictures, too.

Until then. (Love you, Mom. Don't forget to send me the recipe for gumdrop cookies!)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tomorrow I will celebrate my tenth New Orleans Thanksgiving. Usually my parents and brother drive from Atlanta for the holiday, and we go to the Blue Room at the Fairmont Hotel to gorge ourselves on their buffet. Two years ago we did this, and I remember my mom and I, with maybe a few too many glasses of freely-poured champagne in us, danced the Ball and Jack (?) to Bob French's band.

Last year my family stayed in Atlanta (I think--I can't really remember, though... what is happening to my memory?) and we celebrated with friends at their Uptown apartment. There was turducken and lots of stuffing and plenty of friends and booze, but no pies, veggies, or cranberry sauce.

This year my friend and officemate, Matt, will hold the party back at his house (he lives in Mid-City and while his home wasn't flooded, he wasn't able to move back until the new year). I'm making a stuffed mushroom appetizer, a caramel pecan pie, and a cherry pie. Simon's making stuffing and roasted brussel sprouts. We'll cart the food over to Matt's, enjoy a cocktail, and then head to the fairgrounds for the races.

I don't have much to say about the holiday. I'm not feeling particularly thankful. I'm getting over a bad cold and sinus infection, and this weekend was a very bad one in our house on Rampart Street.

For starters, the bar two houses away that I'd hoped would not reopen after the storm has, and it's been hoppin'. This weekend the noise kept me awake, as did the arguments that spilled out onto the sidewalk.

Additionally, our next door neighbor on the west side--whose house is perpetually undergoing repairs or renovations of some sort--has hired a drunk to renovate his house (presumably because he can't afford or won't pay for legitimate contractors). This guy neglects the work all day and then comes in and starts banging away once his hangover has worn off--usually around 8-10 pm. I was kept up every night this weekend with the banging, and Simon, who was away at a conference, had to resort to leaving threatening messages on Mike's cell phone.

I looked up the New Orleans municipal code and learned that construction in residential areas cannot begin before 7 am and must cease by 6pm. Mike has NEVER adhered to code, though, and in this post-storm city, you're hard-pressed to even get a cop to answer the non-emergency number, much less respond to such a complaint. So I put in my ear plugs and piled pillows on my head and finally fell asleep to the thumping sometime around 2am on Friday, since I couldn't very well go over and ask the drunk worker to knock it off (or maybe I could have, but given my extensive experience with drunk people, I think I can safely say that this guy would no be cooperative and might have even been motivated to break a few things to show me what's what). One need look no further than the pile of Budweiser cans this guy's thrown from the window into the side alley to know that he's not super-concerned with the feelings of others.

So when I picked up Simon at the airport on Sunday, one of the first things I said was that I want to move. I have never said this before. I've rarely even thought it.

But I am tired of living two houses up from a loud bar with a violent history, and next door to a house entering its fifth year of renovations (in the seven I've lived in our house), and across from a vacant house, and next to another vacant house, and down the street from the train (whose rumblings would register on the Richter scale and have sent massive cracks travelling across our ceilings), and in a white-washed neighborhood now full of overpriced homes owned by real estate investors (not people who actually LIVE in the neighborhood)--a neighborhood with no diversity, no children, and no sign of being financially accessible to Simon and me, well, EVER. I am just feeling so fed up with it all (and so tired of listening to my own broken-record rants, as I am sure you, too, dear reader/Mom are) that I just want to GET AWAY!

Maybe I DO need to count my f-ing blessings.

Maybe I just need a break.

I don't know what I need, but I'll tell you what: When you are living in this city, and when you read articles like this one, or this one, or this one, well it can be hard to feel thankful.

I know my mom is reading this and wanting to come here and spoil me and do my laundry and my dishes (thanks, Mom. A good and healthy spoiling might do me some good, even.)

But what I could really go for right now is a quick peek at the future...

Will we be okay? Will the bar down the street ever be less loud, less violent, or (oh my word, miracle of all miracles) closed? Will the house next door ever get finished (and when it does, will we be able to hear every burp and fart of our neighbors as we now hear from the drunken carpenter?) Will our neighborhood ever again be racially diverse? Will we be able to afford to live on high-ground, or anywhere in this city? Will we be okay? Or will I, another year from now, be ranting, pathetically--still feeling sorry for myself, still wanting my mommy, still wishing the recovery would hurry up and start to feel like one.

Here it is: I am thankful for even the smallest of recoveries--Thanksgiving back at Matt's house, the re-opening of the Fairgrounds, getting over this cold. Now, bring on the big ones...

Monday, November 06, 2006

No, I haven't mentioned Zack Bowen's murder/suicide. Nor have I written loyally or regularly or much at all. I found tiring all of the focus on that gruesome event, and the suggestion that it somehow had to do with Zack and Addie's being "Quarter Rats". As if moving to New Orleans from out of town and choosing to extend one's adolescence (arguably for too long) makes one crazy and therefore capable of murder. More than anything, Addie's murder seemed to me to be the result of the dangerous psychological scars that her boyfriend bore from his previous military days.

And then there was another murder—this one on the UNO campus—that involved a veteran of the military. He was a former chaplain's assistant, and now we're hearing suggestions that his demise may have been the result of meeting with a male prostitute. My officemate and I talk about this and he says simply, "Men can be scary," but I find the undertones darker. It seems that the men in the military are not just "uneducated," as Kerry would have them, but perhaps they are also compelled to volunteer by histories of their own that they feel they can't discuss openly. It's moments like these that make me grateful for my husband, the passive Brit. I often tire of his logical debates, but I'll take that any day over violence and secrecy.

When I talked to my mom about the Zack and Addie murder/suicide, I told her that we, here, found it all very awful, but that there was something about the way we've ALL been psychologically altered, post-K, that makes us a bit more able to understand how one's disappointment or disillusionment can quickly and uncontrollably turn to rage. No, we do not understand what compels one to murder and cook one's girlfriend. We understand how irrational reactions to anger can seem to possess you. I know this, at least. I've mentioned in entries past my own struggles with rage. A broken window. Screaming and banging and saying things that, when I think of them later, appear to have come from a woman speaking in tongues. This is a post-K thing for me. Before, it was more sadness than rage, and I think I'd rather the sadness, thank you.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I do this a lot. I lose interest too easily. I have idea after idea after idea, but none gets pursued fully, if at all. Such is the fate of this blog, it seems.

But it’s more complicated than that. I am just a little Katrina-ed out. I was telling a colleague the other day how my empathy feels messed with these days. My students’ old standby excuses—dead grandparents galore, perpetually flat tires, unnaturally frequent episodes of bronchitis and flu—have been replaced by talk of sheet-rocking woes, or plumbing explosions, or power outages, or “there’s no cable/phone/internet access where I live,” or construction traffic, or road closures, or, or, or. All legitimate excuses, I suppose, but still. I feel angry at them for using the storm as an excuse.

This anger has come, lately, in the form of several episodes of straight-up rage. I’m talking crazy rage: head-spinning, out-of-body experience rage that is not in any way an appropriate response to what brought it on.

Luckily this hasn’t happened in the classroom, but it’s been hard. When I am getting my butt here on time every day, when I am doing my work by the deadline, when I am making my school life work while still living in the same city these kids are living in, I just lose my temper and my tolerance for excuses. So I didn’t lose my house. So I didn’t lose my belongings. So: These Days, this feels like a liability. I can’t start over.

So I am feeling stuck and not like writing. And I know that my three readers don’t want to hear sad stories, either, but it’s when I feel worst that I am drawn to the page.

Anyway, Simon and I are wanting to nest. We got married; now it’s nesting time. It would seem that we are in a grand position to nest, too. We both have stable jobs. Our income and affordable rent allows us to chip away at my student debt (slowly, slowly… we do have teachers’ salaries, after all). But we would like to own a house—and one in our neighborhood, where the home prices in our neighborhood have skyrocketed. For example: The guys across the street from us are selling their house for $325,000. This is the new price. It was listed at over $450,000. Another example: recently, friends of ours paid almost $200,000 for a one-bedroom house comparable to ours in size. It’s in much better shape than the one we’re in, but still. I mean, I had this notion that we could buy a house in my neighborhood for something like the housing prices were when I moved into the neighborhood (the house we’re in was purchased for well under $100,000.) But now it appears this dream of homeownership is out of our reach.

For the record (Mom), we are not really anxious to buy right now. We’re just looking ahead, and thinking ahead—and the view is not a good one.

I mention this because I looked into the Habitat for Humanity Musicians’ Village. There, one can purchase a brand new home (including major appliances), and pay around $500/mo for a 30-year mortgage. These are beautiful, structurally sound 2 and 3 bedroom homes that have beautiful New Orleans flair. Porches and stoops. High ceilings. Transoms. They are painted charming colors. They are New Orleans homes, but without the burden of age.

So considering Simon and I are too poor to purchase a new home in New Orleans—or any home that isn’t gutted or flooded or in a scary, scary place—I thought maybe we’d have a chance at the Musicians’ Village.

Wrong. A household of two cannot have an income of more than $24,000.

Anyway, so I’m listening to NPR and a piece comes on about this Musicians’ Village and this drummer chick who just moved here from out of town somewhere is talking about how she would have had to get a “real job” to afford a house in New Orleans, and how, like, even then it would be impossible to, like, afford anything, so, like, she’s really psyched for this opportunity and like, everyone should apply.

I find myself hating her. Like really hating her. I have this horrible conservative spell. I think, “So GET A JOB!” I resent her for being poor enough to get help. I resent her and her drum circle and her freedom and her interest-free mortgage (oh—and the price INCLUDES insurance, which is impossible to get these days). I resent her because she isn’t even a Fredy Omar or a Jeremy Lyons, or some super-hardworking, making-it-happen-musician; she was an amateur.

She was me, eight years ago—back when I was singing and hustling for tips at Pat O’Brian’s until four in the morning.

Now, though, I am grown-up, and I have a “real job” and I have a roof over my head—a roof I want to be my own. What is this? Why do I want so badly to own something when I know my landlords won’t kick us out?

I guess I just want to know that I can stay. I want to be in control of some part of our fate in that way—in this city that I love, for better or worse.

And here I am learning that the message in New Orleans These Days is this: if you are really really poor, there’s help. Or, if you lost everything: plenty of help. If, however, you are two dedicated teachers who work too much for too little, who have student loans out the wazoo, and who want, for whatever harebrained reason, to stay here, to teach these students, to live in this city, well then good luck.

I know this is a ridiculously oversimplified way of seeing things. I know, I know, I know.

Still, I don’t know why this upsets me so much.

I guess I am just really hungry for some stability, and it feels so impossible, so unattainable. I resent my wealthy gay neighbors. I resent the poor. I am having a middle-class crisis, right smack dab in the beginning of my middle age.

F-ing great.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The good news—the Really Wonderful News—is that it appears we will not, in fact, have to deal with this Ernesto character. I am relieved.

So it is a little strange, today, how sad I feel. Yesterday I went grocery shopping with my girl Jackie, who wanted to go to Dorignac’s to buy Toad Hollow’s “Katrina Wine” for a collector’s item. On the drive to Metairie—that operating but awful suburb I’ve had to visit for life’s necessities so many times, post Katrina—Jackie and I talked about One Year things. She has to work today and is mad about it. She wants to spend the day finding closure, but no one at her work seems to care. Her boss is a native New Yorker who has evidently been complaining a lot lately about the city. “He hates New Orleans, he hates blacks, he hates everything,” she said. “I can’t take all the hate.”

Jackie was here for five days after the storm. I pointed out to her that although today may be the technical anniversary, it really all began over the weekend, and Sunday was pivotal for us all.

It was on Sunday, last year, that I last spoke to Jackie. She called me from an office in the CBD where she planned to ride out the storm. She was worried, but hopeful, and she was as prepared as I suppose she could be. She had enough water and food for three days, flashlights and plenty of batteries, and a boyfriend to keep her company. When I hung up, I remember feeling confident that she would be fine. I even felt a little jealous. I was in Vermont at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference when I heard about the storm and I didn’t make it back to New Orleans before my flight was cancelled and I scheduled a new one to Atlanta. I wanted to be there, for some reason, and there Jackie was—as she’d always been (during Georges, during Lily and Iris, during Ivan). When storms came knocking, I always run (yes—a good thing, I know). Somehow, Jackie’s staying this time struck me as fiercely loyal, if a bit shortsighted, and I admired her tenacity and her devotion to the city. I envied her for her adventures. While she had many a picture of hurricane parties-past, I had memories of long drives with unhappy cats and nights watching The Weather Channel at my parents’ house. Mine were unromantic stories.

As it turned out, Jackie had yet another adventure, but not one to be envied. After the storm passed at the flooding became evident, after I saw all of the Those Images (the dead woman in the wheelchair, the looting on Canal Street, the fires from water, the water, the water), I realized that my car keys were in a drawer in my house and that I hadn’t told Jackie. She had a way to get out, but by then all lines of communication were down, and so…

Later (on September 4th) she sent me this email, which I posted on my blog last year. It deserves to be republished:

Just a note to say Im alive.
i am extremely tramatized.
The anarchy,storm,flood water and the smell of rot in the city can not be put into words.
I am healthy except my stomach is sick and my feet are slightly infected from contaminated water.
My house is perfectly intact and all the trees fell away from it.
The French Quarter from Canal to Burgundy up to Poland Avenue is an island.
It is starting to smell like bodies and birds are starting to flock.
We didn't get water in our neighborhood until yesterday.
Ive become a pro at looting for food and all the neighbors get together.
I am now outside Baton Rouge.
We had to siphon gas to leave and it was stressfull with all the down trees and lines,military and gangs.
People in our neighborhood are walking on the streets with shotguns,axes,bats.
Houses are getting robbed and buildings are getting blown up.
People are hotwiring city buses and running them into houses
People are getting shot over gasoline and water.
I don't know who's alive and who's dead.
People from the neighborhood are taking canoes over St.Claude and France area to pull people out of water.
There are dead Children on Canal Street
Dog Packs are forming
I am mentally having some problems.
People are getting raped
New Orleans is the most scariest place on the planet
The cops are looting and drinking beer riding on the back of cars with rifles
Its under a police state
They are shooting people and taking away our weapons
We had a gun,ax,hooks,a staff,cleaver and a few knives.
I will be able to repond but please dont expect too much from me right now.
Im really over alot of this.
Masako-Couldn't even get past Claiborne to check your house. Water too deep.
Sarah-Your house is still intact-no damage Water receded,your car is there but someone put a screwdriver in the gas tank to get gas.
Robin-Couldn't get to your house because of water and violence.
Tark and David-Houses are fine as far as I can see
Steve Garafano-House looks ok but the brick fence is all over the road.One window may be broken.
People are robbing houses so this is only storm damage.
I do have photograps to download and will later but Im really fucked up right now.
Im having a hard time in society.
I hope we can all return.
i may have more stories later when I can.
The government are idiot. They left us to die.
Sarah we had to use your house for resources-thank you.
Friends that gave me keys to their houses-thank you.
You helped us survive.
Noone ever take anything for granted.
I am grateful for a flushing toilet
We had to use buckets and go to neighborhood pools to gather water.
I am grateful for ice
And for life.
There are still children there!
There are Old people
People with their limbs rotting
people lying on the street on mattresses.
Yes this is the bywater.
This was our home.

Today, Jackie sent this email:

At this time last year I was in an office building downtown freaking out. At this exact time the wind howled,busted windows,rain came in through the ceiling and all I could think is that I would probably die. As I sit here emailing all my friends, I am feeling blessed to be here. Please take a moment today to reflect on all those who passed away or were washed away by the flood waters. Life is so short and fragile-tragedy doesn't care how old you are or what you look like. I am so happy to be alive. Truly,I can't believe it!
OK-I'm being sappy.
I'm just happy.
hey,that rhymed.
see ya,

I replied:

I love you, Miss Jackie.


So today it has been a year and I am doing the This Time Last Year thing, without wanting to. I woke up feeling appropriately sick. (My mom would probably say it’s psychosomatic. I think it has more to do with the cooties one gets from being around dozens of students. And, okay, maybe my immune system isn’t kicking and stress might have the smallest bit to do with it. But a cold is a cold and I am feeling more annoyed than anything.) I plan to stay in and try to recover. I wish I had to work, actually. I could go for the distraction. Maybe I will decide to emerge for some event…

And there are, indeed, plenty of events planned today. Jackie wanted to go to a march in the Lower Ninth Ward. Some friends are gathering on Bayou St. John this evening. Folks are ringing bells (yes, Commemorative Katrina Bells one could purchase from WWL TV to ring at the time of the levees breaks—I tried to get one, more for laughs than for ringing… I mean a BELL, come ON…but they were sold out). Wreaths are being laid. The President is at church on television. On MTV, a special about young people dealing with the storm (appropriately, in reality TV style) just aired. NPR this morning was all commemoration, all the time (yesterday I did, in fact, hear a wonderful “This I Believe” essay about “attachment to place.”) UNO is holding a ceremony that will surely end with a finger-sandwich reception. Anderson Cooper is said to be hanging out at Vaughn’s this evening. On WWNO, James Arey is playing classical music his listeners asked to hear today. On American Routes on Sunday, Nick Spitzer interviewed Elvis Costello, Aaron Neville, Allan Toussaint, etc. On The Today show this morning, Brian Williams was standing in front of Jackson Square. The newspaper and are Katrina-covered. In short, today is All Katrina, All of the Time, and all of this is designed to commemorate. All of this is meant, as Jackie put it, to “bring closure,” which is something she says she desperately wants.

In the meantime, I am thinking about A Year Ago At This Time. I am remembering devouring the news Back Then. I am remembering being dumbfounded. I am remembering not crying for a long time, having a kind of Can’t Believe It talk with Simon in my parents’ basement—one in which we lay next to each other and stared at the ceiling and tried to do the whole, “At least we have each other” thing. I am remembering that I didn’t find that as comforting as I wanted to. I am remembering that we grieved differently, which led to our almost breaking up, which led to our re-committing to each other, which led to Simon’s proposal, which led to our getting married in New Orleans in May. I am remembering volunteering for the Red Cross and how hard and wonderful that was. I am remembering being on the local news as a cliché. I am remembering coming home to our house intact, and being grateful and sad, still. I am remembering how hard it has been to lose a city and in some ways, how hard it is to still have your home—how unfocused and difficult our grief can be. I am remembering the night we returned, finding our tiny new cat, Ray, who survived this storm. I am remembering the refrigerators and the smells and the smells… I am remembering going into Tom and Brandi’s house. And the smells. I am remembering all of these things, and I am wanting closure, too. But I want closure when closure really exists. And it doesn’t. This is still happening.

Brandi sent an email today that I think perfectly sums up the frustration of living here (or trying to)—that captures the bureaucracy, the crap:

I went to bookclub yesterday and I was carpooling with a friend, Jennifer, who lives a few blocks over from our rental home. Jennifer also lives just one block away from our ruined Katrina home on Arts. Just as we were about to leave, Jen's husband asks about the dumpster in our front yard on Arts.

Me: What Dumpster?

Him: The giant purple dumpster parked on your front lawn.

Me (stupidly): There is no dumpster.

Him: I think I know a dumpster when I see one.

Me: Are you sure it's my house?

Him: Yep. You should probably check that out.

So, needless to say, I did. I went by the Arts house on my lunch break today and sure enough there is a huge purple stinky dumpster taking up most of my front lawn. Now, for those of you that haven't been around me lately, I am not my usual 'no worries' self. The anniversary of Katrina is effecting me more than I would like to admit, so at the sight of an ugly dumpster in front of my now-ugly-once-pretty house I almost starting crying. But wait, it gets better! I called the number on the side of the dumpster and this was my conversation -

Me: Hi, I'm calling from 4970 Arts. One of your dumpsters is in my front yard and I was just wondering why?

Her: Did you say 4970 Arts?

Me: Yes.

(sounds of typing)

Her: Oh, that house is scheduled to be demolished.

Me: WHAT!!!!!

Her: It's scheduled to be demolished.

Me: That's impossible. I own this house. I never gave anyone permission to demolish my house.

Her: Well, it's scheduled to be demolished.

Me: WELL, it shouldn't be!

Her: It's entirely possible that they've scheduled the wrong house to be demolished.

Me: Speechless. Jaw has hit the ground at this point and I'm having trouble breathing.

Her: Ma'am? Are you there?

Me: Yes. I'm still here. Listen to me, under NO circumstances is this house to be demolished without my express permission. In fact, it isn't to be demolished without notarized permission from me.

Her: I understand. Would you like me to call you back with the name and number of the contractor who scheduled the demolition?

Me: You bet your ass I would!

I realize at some point I will find this story funny, provided my house isn't demolished without my permission. Feel free to chuckle or cry - that's how we've been getting by in this crazy situation.

So, if you're wondering how things are in New Orleans and you believe some of the softball bullsh*t that Bush & Co. have been throwing out there, just think of this story. I live in a city where "it's entirely possible that they've scheduled the wrong house to be demolished."

Love to all,

Yes, we live in a city where it is entirely possible that one’s house is mistakenly scheduled to be demolished. We live in a house where the once-feared is now happening—Jack-O-Lantern neighborhoods (where only a few homes are lived in) are scattered throughout the flooded areas. Housing is still in desperately short supply (and rents have doubled and then tripled so that only contractors—not residents—can afford a home). Traffic lights remain broken. The power goes out sporadically. Billboards advertise contracting companies, phone companies, cable companies—all of them “dedicated to rebuilding a better New Orleans.” Driving is like playing Frogger, but with construction debris. The news—oh, the news: The Times-Picayune published a piece on the State of New Orleans One Year Later, and it showed figures of our “recovery” and spotty rebuilding. The New York Times has published a Week of Katrina to commemorate the one-year marker. On, posters in the forums have begun a petition to recall the mayor.

Dude, when I think about it, it’s just plain nutty, living here. Nutty nutty nutty.

So we drink a little too much. We sleep a little too much. We complain and we don’t. We talk about it and we don’t. We remember and we don’t (or try not to). We do, and we don’t. It is one year later, and Katrina still very much IS. That’s the only way to describe it.

After all of that bitching and moaning, I would like to thank the family, friends, and loved ones who have showed concern and support throughout this. I hope your concern and support will stay with us as the storm continues to…

Mom and Dad: Thank you for opening your home to us of six weeks, and for helping to make it feel more like ours. At one point we thought we’d have to stay, and your love and unintrusive support made that feel like not such a bad thing.

Paul and Aalia (especially Aalia): Thank you for your emails and for staying interested in our recovery.

Tom and Brandi: Thank you for your companionship, even as you, too, are going through it

Tony Dalgo: Thank you for checking in on us even as you have your own house to rebuild.

Mary and Jerry Trice: Thank you for not raising our rent. We could not be here if you had done what so many of the landlords here have chosen to do.

Terrence: Thank you for your poem, for your love, and for staying in touch with us from Houston.

Chuck and Sally: Thank you for having us over for dinner in Atlanta—for listening and for giving us much-needed distraction.

Anderson Cooper: Thank you for interviewing dudes in fluorescent pink wigs, and for having a last name that rhymes with “pooper.”

Ivor Van Heerden: Thank you for rocking my world.

Bob Breck: You, too. and Cookie: Thank you for laughter.

UNO: Thank you for reopening, and thanks, Dr. Schock, for getting me even a small raise.

Kim McDonald and Kris Lackey: Thank you for hanging in there, and for being such wonderful colleagues and friends.

Tim Green: Thank you for coming back to New Orleans to make your music.

Kufaru: Thank you for coming home—I hope your new one (wherever it is) is as music and love-filled for you as New Orleans was.

To the across-the-pond H__- family, the extended D__- family, and the K__- family: Thank you for thinking of us.

To the Clarks: Thank you for the use of your cabin (which gave us a much-needed escape when Rita was headed for us) and for having your annual Christmas Eve party.

To Susan, Beverly, Sherry, Peggy, and Mickey: Thank you for being surrogate moms and rockin’ women and for being a shoulder for my own mom, who has needed the support, sometimes, as much as I have.

Danielle: Thank you for reminding me to be less dark.

Anthony: Thank you for loving me still, even from Chicago.

Simon: Thank you for putting up with my crazy and for marrying me, anyway.

Jackie: Thank you for coming home.

I am probably forgetting some thank you’s, and I’m sorry for that. Whatever. Thank you.

I will try to continue to keep this blog going, and I will try—Danielle—to not be so dark about what I post here. I hope you will all keep reading, as the only thing that keeps me writing is knowing that one or two of you might be interested.

Friday, August 25, 2006

We've made it into the cone .

My mother called today and said she'd been reading somewhere about the importance of green space to one's mental health. She hoped we could come up to Atlanta and to the north Georgia mountains again soon, she said. "We may be there next week," I told her. And with this Ernesto being who he is, we just may.

In other news, the UNO English Department faculty meeting was today--an event full of introductions, figures, and finger sandwiches. The enrollment numbers sound encouraging so far--12,000 students are enrolled as of today. That's down from 17,000, Pre-K, and our budget is based on a projection of 14,000, but we were told that the English Department is structured for just 12,000, so none of us should fear losing our jobs. Other numbers were less encouraging. New freshmen are down by 50%. Out-of-state student enrollment is at just 60% of Pre-K numbers. What one could say is that these numbers are good, all things considered. And so this is what we say. But this all depends on one crucial thing: that we avoid a storm this summer.

In fact, I remember back when our mantra was "January." Back then, we all felt like there would be some sort of Real Renewal we might see with the New Year--or maybe we just felt like, "If we can make it until then in the midst of this crap, then we can make it, period." I don't know. But our new mantra is "If there's no hurricane this year." If, if, if. If is hard to live with. And what is perhaps harder to live with is knowing that If really means When.

Over the past week, the Corps of Engineers has been running tests of the new pumps and locks. Imaginary Hurricane Butch is the menace they have been fighting, and with each of the runs-through, the pumps have failed. I don't know what this means for us, and what it means for our Ifs and our Whens. Simon and I feel reassured that our home will be okay, standing (or sinking) on relative high ground as it is. But I remember pictures Jackie sent me of the days immediately after the storm--the days when water stood on our street, too. When we returned, we found objects from the back yard had been deposited in the front yard. I can only imagine where the items from Tom and Brandi's Gentilly back yard may have ended up.

And so we watch this Ernesto, who has now been named. We are In The Cone, now, and it is a terrible place to be. I feel weepy from it. Scared. Tired. Worried. It really isn't a way to live, I guess. What is this f-ing love that keeps me here? How strong can it be? Stronger than Ernesto, I hope, I hope.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

And wasn’t I just getting that call? The one where Simon told me about Katrina? Where he asked me, “Are you watching this?” and there I was in sunny Vermont, not watching, and with no idea? The call that sent me to the computer lab to print out the graphic of the approaching storm and the doomsday report? The one that, while my writerly friends headed out to swimming holes and happy hours, had me weepy on the line with some Delta lady, changing my cancelled New Orleans flight to one headed to my new (old) home for seven weeks: Atlanta? Wasn’t that just yesterday?

And now it has been nearly a year?

And now there is this tropical mass, Ernesto (TD 5), that has not yet been named? And there he is, next to Bermuda--far, but far too close--brewing? And here we have just been warned, on the ten o’clock news—(the same newscast that reported our embarassing mayor’s comparing New Orleans’ lack of progress to that of the yet-unbuilt Twin Towers replacement)—that by Tuesday—the official one-year marker of the still-ongoing event that we are being asked, somehow, to commemorate—we may have to watch this Ernesto, we may have to leave? Ha.

And so now we are watching—again--and I find myself saying out loud: "I cannot deal." And my husband, who was not my husband last year, is saying to me, “Well, I guess we have to be prepared…”

And I say, “For what?”

And he says, “For the possibility that we might have to evacuate.”

And I say, “We are prepared. We have cat carriers and cars and a place to go.”

And he says, “No, I mean emotionally prepared.”

And I say, “I can’t do that.”

And it is true. I can’t.

I could, somehow, then. But now, I just can't. It's true.

Friday, August 18, 2006

After 10 refreshing days away from the city, Simon and I are back in New Orleans. It’s not that I didn’t realize the “emotional toll” that living in this scenery takes on you—it’s just that I didn’t realize how good it would feel to be away and to forget it for a few days. My commitment to New Orleans is strong primarily because I just love, love, love it. But I really don’t know how long I can tolerate the wreckage.

It’s been nearly a year now and I have been doing a lot of “a year ago today” stuff. A year ago today I was at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. I was hoping to be inspired and to come back home to New Orleans a Real Writer (read: with better self-discipline and a renewed drive). Now, my writing feels like aimless and directionless crap. Perhaps it’s the blog-medium. I think it encourages mindless drivel.

Anyway, the mountains. Waterfalls and mushroom hunting and wildflower identifying and tent-sleeping and katydid chirping and creek walking and mine-hiking and Coleman cooking and picture taking and rock hopping and river wading and twisty-road driving and fudge eating (and eating and eating). We stayed at the Standing Indian Campground in the Nantahala Basin for three days. Saw Laurel Falls and Mooney Falls and Buck Creek and Pickens Nose. Then we were the guests of Aalia’s friend, Kurt, who lives in a stunning straw bale home he built near Scaly Mountain, NC. Earthen floors and pickle-jar windows. Views. Bullfrogs. We strolled the bourgeois town of Highlands, bought fudge, looked at things we couldn’t have, and then did lots of laying around the house. Kurt was a wonderful and fun host and he went with us on a day-long hike at the Horse Pasture River, where the Gorges State Park Dog, Marvin, adopted us for our adventure. It was just plain wonderful.

Now I am prepping for another semester. I have a crappy schedule that I can’t complain about. I mean that I am not allowed to complain because when I have in the past I have been reminded that I am at the bottom of the pecking order and therefore must simply “deal.” Ah, the things one will do when one is young, talented (but only minimally credentialed), unpublished, enthusiastic, and yet somehow game to be trodden upon. I have no choice. Oh—and thanks for the crap pay, State of Louisiana, that barely allows me to get by. Something else to consider as we ponder our future here…

So here we are again. We wake to the sounds of construction (today I heard some American—GASP—roofers working on the warehouse behind us say “yeah, it’s like f-ing a nasty whore”), we deal with power outages (today’s was three hours long), we cuddle with cats. We remember where we were one year ago today… and one week ago today. Vermont. The mountains. Le sigh.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hurricane season has lost its charm. And yeah, so I did, at one time, find it charming. So? Before Katrina, hurricane season lent a kind of romantic impermanence to life in this city. We knew we could one day be wiped off the map, but it made the up-until-then that much more like living. It was like an amped-up knowledge of mortality, is all, and it made me want to love and live more and harder. Back then, when hurricane season came around, I would chart the storms on a Fox 8 map that I attached with a magnet to our fridge, I would think about what I would take with me—what I’d want with me if it was all I’d have left in the world—and I'd wait for the "games" to begin.

Back then.

This year, Tropical Storm Chris, with his harmless name (how harmless “Katrina” once sounded!) and his not-yet-worthy-of-concern far-away-ness, already has me wary. Simon and I are scheduled to leave town for ten days, and we’d already planned to leave an “Evac-Pack” for the cat-sitters, but now we don’t know what we’ll do. We are supposed to leave on Sunday, when by-then Hurricane Chris will just be entering the Gulf, threatening everyone: Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. We likely won’t know whether New Orleans will be threatened until Tuesday at the earliest, and by then we will be camping high in the Smoky Mountains, away from cell phone towers and TV. So right now, the cats are coming with us. All four of them. We’ll take two cars, which sucks. We’ll take the cats and two cars and us and the following:

Photos and photo albums (including wedding stuff)
CD copies of all contents of both of our desktop computers
An envelope containing our birth certificates, passports, tax documents, copies of bills, etc.
My laptop
My dad’s guitar
My thesis and journals
Cat stuff (litters, treats, food, toys)
People stuff (a week’s worth of clothes, camping gear, etc.)
Whatever else we think of as we are packing these things that we can’t imagine parting with.

We’ll ask Tony to board the windows, and we’ll move any papers and/or electronics to higher ground in the house (I don’t think this works, though. I think everything floats and topples.) We’ll ask someone else to bring in the mail and to secure the trash cans and lawn furniture in the Shack (actually, we’ll do this before we leave). Then, we’ll be camping in North Carolina, wondering about home. I hate it. Another bleak entry in this very inconsistent post-K blog o’ mine.

Oh, the good news: Simon got a job! Let’s hope we both have one to return to.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Last weekend, my dear friend Danielle pointed out that I never write about anything happy on my blog. Reading back over some of my entries, I see that she’s right. I guess it is usually sadness and frustration that draws me to the page. When I’m content, I merrily roll along, not bothering to report the fluffy details.

While I don’t have a happy narrative to relate, I would like to offer a brief list of things that make me happy—all from post-K life in New Orleans:

1) Reliable garbage pickup
2) Semi-regular postal delivery
3) Working flashlights
4) Citronella candles
5) Water pressure
6) Cats
7) Teaching
8) My new Honda Civic
9) Other people’s blogs
10) Afternoon naps
11) Having friends over to watch “Project Runway.”
12) Interpretive dance (a la “So You Think You Can Dance”)
13) Working traffic lights
14) Taco stands
15) Whole Foods
16) Phone calls
17) Emails
18) Cooking
19) Eating
20) Drinking
21) Planning a vacation
22) Going to the all-you-can-eat buffet with Tony
23) Riding in Tony’s purple truck with his pit-bull, Buddy
24) Kiehl’s bath products
25) The occasional pedicure
26) The painted sign on the asphalt of Burgundy Street that reads “PEDICURES” (like the ones that read “HELP” or “NEED FOOD AND WATER”)
27) Live music
28) Reunions with friends
29) My wedding

I have to go teach now…

Monday, July 10, 2006

My mom and a group of her Episcopalian friends have arrived in New Orleans for a week of volunteering in New Orleans East. Simon and I drove Uptown to meet Mom for dinner at Lebanon’s. She said that her group had stopped at the house on the way in from Atlanta to see the house and the work they’d be doing. “I had no idea,” she said, referring to the degree of devastation in New Orleans East.

“Hadn’t you seen it before on the drive in?” Simon asked.

“Seeing it from the interstate isn’t the same,” I said, realizing that I’ve only seen it from the interstate, myself. I’d warned my mom that it might be a strange and difficult experience, installing sheetrock in a house in the East. When she asked why I said, “Well, it’ll be one half-alive house in the midst of a whole bunch of devastation.”

“Kind of drop-in-the-bucket-like,” she offered.


I am really proud of my mom for doing what she’s doing. She’s sixty-five! And here she is giving up a week to help some guy who’d evacuated to Georgia sheetrock his home. I, myself, have done nothing to help since I’ve come back. N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

That is, unless you count getting up and going to work every day something. Or attending a Memorial Day rally, something. Or offering ideas for making our neighborhood safer and cleaner on the Marigny/Bywater forum, something. Or living here in the midst of this at all, something. Most days I do call it something. It is, after all, all that one can do some days: getting up and going, teaching and sleeping. But there are those days when I feel, well, utterly hopeless/helpless/powerless and I want either to a) punch in the teeth anyone who would suggest that I pull myself—that we pull ourselves—up by the bootstraps, or b) punch myself in the teeth. I grind them, instead.

So I am proud of my mother, and grateful to all those like her who have helped us when we cannot (for a variety of reasons) help ourselves.


I worry about this “drop-in-the-bucket-like” approach to rebuilding.
I worry that Nagin’s free-market approach to rebuilding is a complete non-plan—the total opposite of a plan (“let’s just see what the people do,” when the people can’t do anything until we know the plan)—and I think that most New Orleanians would agree with me. We are, after all, a largely liberal group. And liberals recognize that the free-market approach can be dangerous at a number of levels.

But we are also in Louisiana—which is All About Property Rights. Which means that many homeowners believe that, damnit, they should be able to put their f-ing drop in the bucket, period. Damn the exorbitant costs to all NOLA taxpayers of providing basic services to isolated pockets in the city. Damn being surrounded by blight and raising children in the midst of school-less neighborhoods. Damn the fact that there is no specific support for Louisiana hurricane protection in the Army Corps of Engineers' latest report. Damn conscientious urban renewal. Damn planning. Damn you: I bought this f-in’ house and it’s mine to rebuild, period.

A couple of weeks ago I got all worked up talking about the plan/non-plan for rebuilding New Orleans while talking to a philosophy professor from UNO at the Parkview. Leave it to a philosophy professor to break me down. I can’t remember now the details of what he said, but the gist of it was that imminent domain is dangerous, and that WE ALL have the right to rebuild. He had me thinking. I still am thinking.

I don’t know.

It just seems irresponsible to allow isolated pockets of the city to rebuild. Moreover, I find it self-centered for these homeowners to demand services in their sectors of the city when New Orleans can barely afford to keep the less-ravaged parts of town alive. When you move into a city, you move into a community. You are buying into something more than just your individual property. You agree to adhere to the aesthetic guidelines of your neighborhood. You agree to pay higher taxes on just about everything. You agree to be a decent neighbor because you are living in close proximity to others. In short, it’s not Just About the Homeowner. It’s about everyone living collectively in the city.

Exactly, my philosopher friend would say.

I am conflicted. And I am tired.

Meanwhile, my mom called this evening to report on her first day of volunteering in the East. She said they’ve been moving stuff all day, and you could hear how tired she was. Tomorrow they will be painting, but they’re worried about that because in peeling back the wallpaper, mold was discovered, and evidently the homeowner wants to simply paint over it.

“Well, I guess you just have to do it,” I said.

“I know,” she said. She described how in the Saint Andrews orientation this morning they were told that their task was not to tell people how to rebuild—to offer advice or suggestions—but simply to aid in the recovery that those people saw fit.

Again: the conflict. Wouldn’t some outside advice and guidance right now be a good thing? When our mayor is MIA, don’t we need a little help deciding?

This is the thing: we need a plan.

Until then, it all feels like meaningless drops in one big, grim bucket.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Among the many, many deplorable realities of this post-K New Orleans--most of which, sadly, don't surprise me:

Report: Workers in N.O. endure abuse
Low-wage laborers exploited in recovery
Friday, July 07, 2006
By Gwen Filosa
Staff writer

Post-Katrina New Orleans is a dangerous, oppressive place for the working poor who labor on the front lines of the city's recovery effort, according to a report released Thursday by a Washington, D.C.-based legal center.

"The treatment of workers in New Orleans constitutes a national crisis of civil and human rights," said the report by the Advancement Project and the National Immigration Law Center, which interviewed more than 700 workers over several months only to find glaring examples of unfair labor practices, homelessness, and harassment by police and contractors.

The report bluntly depicts racist, bleak times for those on the working end of construction equipment or in the service industry. It details the experiences of migrant workers from out of town, many Hispanic and Asian, and also of African-Americans born and raised in New Orleans.

"New Orleans is being rebuilt on the backs of underpaid and unpaid workers perpetuating cycles of poverty that existed pre-Katrina," wrote the authors. They include attorney Judith Browne-Dianis of the Washington legal aid group the Advancement Project, and Marielena Hincapie of the National Immigration Law Center.

The report calls on the government to ensure availability of housing for low-income families and asks the philanthropic community to invest in programs that create opportunities for the poor and working classes.

Without reliable transportation, decent housing or child care, hundreds of families have found themselves living off meager wages, sleeping in cars or moldy, flood-ruined buildings. Many construction workers take health risks by working in possibly toxic conditions, the report said, while being denied overtime and, in many instances, all the pay they were promised or any money at all.

Gail Duncan, whose plight is outlined in the report, works in the kitchen of a restaurant on St. Charles Avenue but cannot afford an apartment. She and her children sleep on the floor of a relative's apartment in the Iberville public housing complex, the report said. It took her family seven months to return to New Orleans from their temporary home in Fort Worth, Texas, where her daughter was threatened by other children and school officials told her to "leave Texas."

Gloria Dillon lost her $6.78-an-hour job at a local toy store when Katrina hit and forced her family out of Gentilly. Dillon has no job or car and lives in a FEMA trailer park outside of Baton Rouge, named "Renaissance Village," with her only income $240 a month from public assistance.

"I am an excellent employee," said Dillon, who believes Baton Rouge businesses don't want to hire New Orleanians and has been repeatedly turned away. "I have the skills. But once they see that state ID, they don't want you."

The Regional Transit Authority provides a free bus from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, but often work shifts don't fit the bus schedule. Gwendolyn Hammond, who lived in the now-shuttered St. Bernard public housing project, said the nursing home where she worked only has 12-hour shifts, and she can't afford post-Katrina rents in New Orleans.

"Rents are now $700, $800, $1,000," Hammond said.
The report, titled "And Injustice for All: Workers' Lives in the Reconstruction of New Orleans," includes interviews with people like Dan Nazohni, who was recruited by a labor broker at his home at the White Mountain Apache Nation reservation in Arizona in September. The tribal government paid the unidentified broker $1,600 for gas and incidentals to help send 80 Apaches to the region with the promise of $14-an-hour wages.

Instead, the broker disappeared once the Apaches were dropped off in New Orleans. Nazohni and his co-workers were homeless for days, only to find a tent city set up in City Park, where the monthly rent is $300 per tent site. For months, Nazohni said he barely found enough construction work to scrape by.

For construction workers who find work, checks bounce or bosses refuse to pay.

The report examines the way the news media and politicians have painted a post-Katrina economic recovery. While the public was told that fast-food restaurants were paying huge bonuses, workers told the Advancement Project that it was mostly a ruse to lure workers to the low-paying, futureless jobs.

In one case in the report, a starting bonus was never paid to an employee who said her wages quickly fell from $9.25 back to the minimum wage of $5.15.

"In reality, low-wage workers of color are all losers in a race to the bottom," the report said.

Demolition worker Mario Fuentes came to New Orleans from Houston before Christmas.

After four days of cleanup and demolition work, his contractors dropped him off at a fast-food place on Canal Street and bought him a hamburger and a soda. They never came back. "I had to leave because I did not even have one dollar to buy something else," Fuentes said.

A group of 12 tree service workers who cleaned up hurricane debris in the Garden District are owed more than $20,000, the report said. Jorge Ramos, a Honduran from Houston, said his crew worked 12-hour days for 13 days straight but were not paid.

They live in tents on Scout Island in City Park.
Police often come down hard on the migrant workers, asking to check their skin for "gang" tattoos, said Tomas Hernandez, 28, of El Salvador, who came to New Orleans after working in New York, where he made $5.50 an hour at a factory.
Hernandez recalled police waking up him and his friends inside their rented house that had no electricity.

They didn't find any suspicious tattoos, Hernandez said, and then one officer asked the men if they had jobs lined up for the next day.

"They were pointing guns at us," Hernandez said. "We said no. He said he needed work done on his house."

The officer returned in the morning to pick up the workers. At least the officer paid them, Hernandez said.

The New Orleans Police Department denied such a scene would take place without a serious complaint having been phoned in. The report does not identify any officers by name or give specifics on what drew police to the home.

"His allegation is absurd," said police spokesman Capt. John Bryson, in response to the report. "We do not stop Latin Americans checking tattoos. We don't stop anyone for that. We have a right to knock on the door and say, there is a complaint that you're in violation for immigration laws. But we do not infringe on individuals in homes. We very carefully guard the rights of the Fourth Amendment."

The report is available on the Internet at
. . . . . . .
Gwen Filosa can be reached at or (504) 826-3304.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

These two pieces, published today in the New York Times, go hand in hand--one, about the rise in the rates of suicide and depression in New Orleans, and the other about a total lack of plan.

June 21, 2006
A Legacy of the Storm: Depression and Suicide

NEW ORLEANS, June 20 — Sgt. Ben Glaudi, the commander of the Police Department's Mobile Crisis Unit here, spends much of each workday on this city's flood-ravaged streets trying to persuade people not to kill themselves.

Last Tuesday in the French Quarter, Sergeant Glaudi's small staff was challenged by a man who strode straight into the roaring currents of the Mississippi River, hoping to drown. As the water threatened to suck him under, the man used the last of his strength to fight the rescuers, refusing to be saved.

"He said he'd lost everything and didn't want to live anymore," Sergeant Glaudi said.
The man was counseled by the crisis unit after being pulled from the river against his will. Others have not been so lucky.

"These things come at me fast and furious," Sergeant Glaudi said. "People are just not able to handle the situation here."

New Orleans is experiencing what appears to be a near epidemic of depression and post-traumatic stress disorders, one that mental health experts say is of an intensity rarely seen in this country. It is contributing to a suicide rate that state and local officials describe as close to triple what it was before Hurricane Katrina struck and the levees broke 10 months ago.

Compounding the challenge, the local mental health system has suffered a near total collapse, heaping a great deal of the work to be done with emotionally disturbed residents onto the Police Department and people like Sergeant Glaudi, who has sharp crisis management skills but no medical background. He says his unit handles 150 to 180 such distress calls a month.

Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, the deputy New Orleans coroner dealing with psychiatric cases, said the suicide rate in the city was less than nine a year per 100,000 residents before the storm and increased to an annualized rate of more than 26 per 100,000 in the four months afterward, to the end of 2005.

While there have been 12 deaths officially classified as suicides so far this year,
Dr. Rouse and Dr. Kathleen Crapanzano, director of the Louisiana Office of Mental Health, said the real number was almost certainly far higher, with many self-inflicted deaths remaining officially unclassified or wrongly described as accidents.

Charles G. Curie, the administrator of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said the scope of the disaster that the hurricane inflicted had been "unprecedented," and added, "We've had great concerns about the level of substance abuse and mental health needs being at levels we had not seen before."

This is a city where thousands of people are living amid ruins that stretch for miles on end, where the vibrancy of life can be found only along the slivers of land next to the Mississippi. Garbage is piled up, the crime rate has soared, and as of Tuesday the National Guard and the state police were back in the city, patrolling streets that the Police Department has admitted it cannot handle on its own. The reminders of death are everywhere, and the emotional toll is now becoming clear.

Gina Barbe rode out the storm at her mother's house near Lake Pontchartrain, and says she has been crying almost every day since.

"I thought I could weather the storm, and I did — it's the aftermath that's killing me," said Ms. Barbe, who worked in tourism sales before the disaster. "When I'm driving through the city, I have to pull to the side of the street and sob. I can't drive around this city without crying."

Many people who are not at serious risk of suicide are nonetheless seeing their lives eroded by low-grade but persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and stress-related illnesses, doctors and researchers say. All this goes beyond the effects of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing, Mr. Curie said. Beyond those of Hurricanes Andrew, Hugo and Ivan.

"We've been engaged much longer and with much more intensity in this disaster than in previous disasters," he said.

At the end of each day, Sergeant Glaudi returns to his own wrecked neighborhood and sleeps in a government-issued trailer outside what used to be home.

"You ride around and all you see is debris, debris, debris," he said.

And that is a major part of the problem, experts agree: the people of New Orleans are traumatized again every time they look around.

"This is a trauma that didn't last 24 hours, then go away," said Dr. Crapanzano, the Louisiana mental health official. "It goes on and on."

"If I could do anything," said Dr. Howard J. Osofsky, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Louisiana State University, "it would be to have a quicker pace of recovery for the community at large. The mental health needs are related to this."

The state estimates that the city has lost more than half its psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and other mental health workers, many of whom relocated after the storm. And according to the Louisiana Hospital Association, there are little more than 60 hospital beds for psychiatric patients in the seven hospitals that remain open here.

Because of a lack of mental heath clinics and related services, severely disturbed patients end up in hospital emergency rooms, where they often languish. Many poorer patients were dependent on a large public institution, Charity Hospital, but it has been closed since the storm despite the protests of many medical professionals who say the building is in good condition. Big Charity, as the locals called it, had room for 100 psychiatric patients and could have used more capacity.

"When you don't have a place to send that wandering schizophrenic directing traffic, guess what? Law enforcement is going to wind up taking care of that," said Dr. Rouse, the deputy coroner. "When the Police Department is forced to do the job of the mental health system, it's a lose-lose situation for everyone."

"When the family comes to see me at the coroner's office," he added, "it's a defeat. The state has a moral obligation to reinstitute this care."

Sergeant Glaudi and others said some people struggling with emotional issues had no prior history of mental illness or depression.

The symptoms cut across economic and racial lines; life in New Orleans is difficult and inconvenient for everyone.

Susan Howell, a political scientist at the University of New Orleans, conducted a recent study with researchers from Louisiana State to see how people were coping with everyday life in the city and neighboring Jefferson Parish. Ms. Howell managed a similar survey in 2003.

"The symptoms of depression have, at minimum, doubled since Katrina," she said. "These are classic post-trauma symptoms. People can't sleep, they're irritable, feeling that everything's an effort and sad."

The new survey was conducted in March and April, and canvassed 470 respondents who were living in houses or apartments. Since they were not living in government-issued trailers, it is likely that they were among the more fortunate.

Jennifer Lindsley, a gallery owner, also feels the sting of missing her friends.

"When you can't get ahold of people you used to know, it leaves you feeling kind of empty," Ms. Lindsley said. "When you try to explain it to people in other cities, they say: 'The whole world is over it, so you've got to get over it. Sorry that happened, but too bad. Move on.' "

Some people have decided to leave solely because of the mood of the city.

"I'm really aware of the air of mild depression that pervades this entire area," said Gayle Falgoust, a retired teacher. "I'm leaving after this month. I worry about living with this level of depression all the time. I worry that it might affect my health. I know the move will improve my mood."

And now, one of the causes:

June 21, 2006

The New Orleans Muddle

It has been almost 10 months since Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast, and there is still no redevelopment plan for New Orleans. Congress has passed the emergency relief bill, and President Bush has signed it into law. Billions of dollars are headed the city's way. Leaders in New Orleans and in the state capital of Baton Rouge will have only one chance to get it right. There are no more excuses for local officials, no more pointing toward Washington. It is time for southeastern Louisiana to rebuild itself.

Yet Adam Nossiter reported this week in The Times that it will be six months before a "master planning document" answers the questions foremost in the minds of residents, like which neighborhoods will return, where rebuilding will be encouraged and where returning residents will have to make do without city services. That is totally unacceptable.

In large swaths of the city, houses still sit empty, block after block. In many places, trash and flood-ruined automobiles have yet to be cleared away. These wastelands provide hideouts for criminals, the perfect breeding ground for the kind of violence that erupted over the weekend when five teenagers were shot and killed.

If the city's open wounds are left to fester, it will begin to rot from the inside.
The city's police department is close to its prehurricane size, protecting a population that is less than half of what it was before the storm. Yet Mayor Ray Nagin has now felt compelled to request — and the governor has granted — a National Guard force to help keep the peace. This does not bolster our confidence that the city will be able to govern itself.

New Orleans has its own way of doing things and says it doesn't want to be told by outsiders in what size and shape it should be reborn. That is fair enough, but only if local officials are living up to their responsibilities. Right now, the people of the city are being held hostage to whims and foot-dragging, their lives on hold as they wait for their leaders to make decisions — decisions that should have been made months ago.

If there is one individual who needs to step up more than any other, it is Mayor Nagin. His city needs a leader more than a politician in this difficult time. Now that Mr. Nagin has been re-elected, it is time to start spending the political capital his victory earned him. His legacy will not rest on how many people like him, but on the effectiveness of the reconstruction and the safety and well-being of residents in the years to come.

New Orleans needs its mayor to speak difficult truths — like telling the residents of a vulnerable block that they will have to rebuild on safer ground. Right now, people don't know if or where to build their new walls. They deserve answers. They have waited long enough.


My own brand of depression has come in the form of intense spells of rage that are not warranted by the situations that bring them about. Yesterday I had a bad one, and I spent most of the dinner hour crying into my Indonesian fried rice, wanting badly to be comforted by my husband, who had just been the focus of my rage. Who could blame him for eating his own food, ignoring my grief, and then leaving the room to organize his office? (He seems to focus his own anxieties into spells of organization and miscellaneous projects.)

Because Simon lost his job after the storm, we have been living on extremely limited funds. Lucky for us, our landlord has not raised the rent, and so we made the decision last week to purchase a second car (mine was totalled by a drunk driver as it sat parked in front of our house... another long and depressing tale). We applied for financing through the UNO federal credit union and were told that if we purchased a car five years young or less (our 2001 Civic made the cut), we would get 5.99% financing. All seemed well.

But yesterday, when Simon returned from taking the car's purchase order to the bank, he told me that in fact the rate was 12.99%. We needed to purchase a 2002 or younger, he said. We would need to contact the car dealer to try to get a better rate.

I was angry. Really angry. But I contained my anger and argued (quite logically, I might add) that the credit union KNEW we were applying for a loan for a 2001 Civic (this is true,) and now that we had f-ing agreed to BUY the car they were telling us no?!

I called customer service for my credit card. They are offering 3.99% for the life of the balance on major purchases. Sounds great, but it means that the initial balance--at 15.99%--sits on the card longer and longer (you pay off the balance at the lowest rate first, of course.) So really we are simply lengthening the term of a 15.99% rate loan (sorry if I am boring you). No way out yet.

But it was the next news that got me. After taking a shower, Simon announced calmly that his account--the one whose plans were meant to be deposited in our new account--was overdrawn, which means, well, that he's running on empty. We recently opened a joint account and had agreed to spend our money responsibly. I think we've both been making an effort, too. But I was so angry that he had overdrawn his account that I just HAD to say some mean-spirited crap about the irresponsibility of it. (I mean, Christ, does ANYONE really need to be told this? No! So why did I have to say anything?)

Well, Simon reacted as anyone would--defensively. Did I want to talk blame, he asked (referring to my small mountain of debt--which I have been gradually chipping away at and NOT adding to, thank you very much!) I didn't.

No--but what I did want to do was scream at the top of my bloody lungs at him. I'm talking crazy, gutteral scream. Not just a yell; an all-out, blood-curdling SCREAM. It feels good when it happens, really. A kind of release--like a tiny hole in a big old dam and so that water comes f-ing SHOOTING out. A release like when you're angry and you scream into a pillow. Only I thought, screw the pillow, and subbed my husband.

I don't even remember what I said--or screamed--but I do remember how I felt: I wanted to hurl my plate of hot food at him. I wanted to break shit. I wanted to physically hurt something or someone. Preferably something that would make a noise as it went. Maybe his skull.

This is bad. This is the kind of behavior one gets asked about at one's shrink. ("Have you felt like hurting others or yourself?") For the first time I can recall, I would answer, "F--k YES!"

What is this rage all about?

It is the buildup of anxiety. It is trying to be and feel okay in an environment that is entirely broken. It is dealing with a very VERY uncertain future--and being newly married and afraid. It is resenting Simon for not having a job--and the city for not being able to provide a good one. It is stress and worry and now it is driving a car that we will pay for, yes, but which will end up costing us at least two grand more than we budgeted. It is knowing that no matter the outcome, it will, for a very long time, NOT be okay.

As I cried over dinner, I told Simon that I was sorry for my misdirected anger, but that I couldn't seem to channel mine like he does. Cleaning and organizing don't do it for me. What does it for me is comfort. It's being told we will be okay. It's BELIEVING we will be okay because there is an OKAY in sight.

But right now, here, in New Orleans, there isn't an okay in sight. There is no okay on the horizon, either. There is endurance and these occasional spells of rage, punctuated, occasionally, by hopeful (or is it really hopeless?) celebration of An End--The End (and we hope, a happy one)--that we cannot see.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

We are a broken set of Christmas lights here. The old kind: one light's going causes the rest of the string to go dark. Such was the case last night, when Simon and I were turning in for the night. We'd settled in with our reading--I with a short story collection and Simon with a thinking-man's magazine--when the power went out.

Had I known the outages would be so regular (there has yet to be a month since we've returned that we've nto had at least one) and so frequent (particularly when the wind blows or a single rain "drops,") I might have kept score, tried to make a game of it. One needs to do that now. And once upon a time--months and months ago--the outages had their charm. How rustic! How spontaneous! See how we can do without TV! See how much we are willing to put up with for our beloved New Orleans! Cheers, cheers, cheers! We went out for a walk in the dark back then, admiring the hue of FEMA tarps in the moonlight. Or we stayed inside, lit dozens of candles, and played romantic.

But it happens again and again, and the fragility of our power grid does, indeed, make life in New Orleans seem very third-world. Very un-charming. Anger-inspiring. And yet, never the least bit surprising. Even the outages that are apropos of nothing are old news to us. (Usually it is rain or even the lightest of winds that causes the power to go.) And yet.

And yet last night I just wasn't HAVING it. The night was perfectly still. It was hot and the air thick, thick, thick, but there wasn't any heat lightning or other evident reason for power failure. So I called 1-800-9-OUTAGE (as I do) to find out the estimated time of repair (usually the patient but frazzled customer service rep at Entergy will give you a ballpark hour that is at least somwhat accurate). I sat on hold.

We are angry at Entergy here. Not only do they have a monopoly on our power in the city, but they also play the Katrina-card and blame everything on that f-ing storm. The hardier ones among us urge patience and understanding, but when one pays their bills, damnit! When one is living in America, for chrissakes! Well, we want a single drop of rain to be allowed to fall without our losing electricity!

It was a single drop of rain that appeared to cause our last outage two weeks ago. My dear friend, Jackie, who is indeed, hardy as hell, went to the French Quarter and had a T-shirt made that said "Got Electricity?" We in the Marigny-Bywater all laughed. And yet.

I was on hold. For a long time. The recording mocked me, saying, "Entergy cares about your high heat bills. Winter is here, and Entergy has a few simple steps that can make a difference in your bill." WINTER is here!?

Finally, after, I don't know, a dozen runs-through of this recording, I spoke to someone. They had only begun to receive calls fifteen minutes ago, she said. They were working on figuring out the problem, she said. Would I like a wake-up call? I would, dammit, yes. (I scheduled one for Simon, whose alarm clock plugs in.) If I can't have electricity, then I am entitled to concierge service as consolation, thank you very much.

The power stayed out until 4:30, and I couldn't sleep. It was HOT. Our house is always hottest at night (and coldest, too, when it does get cold), and I tried not to move as I lay on top of the covers, nude. At 2:00 I went into the kitchen and made an ice pack wrapped in a towel. Put it under my neck. I finally slept.

When the power came back on, our neighbors' ridiculous alarm system squealed, the ACs all churned back to life, and the lights we'd not yet turned off all came on. Simon and I stumbled around switching them off, cranking up the window units to high. Somehow used to our little power-restoration dance by now, we didn't even speak. Just dealt and went back to bed.

Six-thirty was mean this morning, but worse was the news that the power outage was the result of a fire in the neighborhood. I told Simon about it when he came home this afternoon from his occasional construction work. I was trying to nap, and was cranky because here he'd woken me up. "Well, at least there was a good reason for the outage," he said.

"Whatever," I replied (as usual, inconsolable these days). "What, are we like an old string of fucking Christmas lights--where one goes out and all the rest do, too? What the hell?!"

Simon smiled. "We are," he said. "We're just a broken string of Christmas lights." Then he rubbed my feet and I let myself smile, too.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Before I post Adam Nossiter's recent NYTimes article, I should confess that I have, in the past, found Nossiter to be a complete alarmist. In the days immediately following the storm, he was one of the irresponsible journalists who fell into a dangerous pattern of generalization and stereotype. Not what we needed.

Still, this time he's got us right:

June 18, 2006
In New Orleans, Money Is Ready but a Plan Isn't
NEW ORLEANS, June 17 — Billions of federal dollars are about to start flowing into this city after President Bush on Thursday signed the emergency relief bill the region has long awaited. But, with the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, local officials have yet to come up with a redevelopment plan showing what kind of city will emerge from the storm's ruins.
No neighborhoods have been ruled out for rebuilding, no matter how damaged or dangerous. No decisions have been made on what kind of housing, if any, will replace the mold-ridden empty hulks that stretch endlessly in many areas. No one really knows exactly how the $10.4 billion in federal housing aid will be spent, and guidance for residents in vulnerable areas has been minimal.
A month into his second term, Mayor C. Ray Nagin has said little about his vision for a profoundly different city. In an interview on Friday, he said it would be six months before a "master planning document" was issued to address questions like which areas should be rebuilt, although he suggested that thousands of residents were making that decision on their own.
Caution should be the watchword, Mr. Nagin said, months after the apparent demise of a planning committee he set up. "New Orleans is a very historic city," he said. "We can't come out and just do something quickly."
But a close collaborator of Mr. Nagin acknowledged that the process has lagged. "Let's just admit something straight out: we're late," said David Voelker, a board member of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.
Mr. Voelker, who is in charge of the state authority's efforts to coordinate with neighborhood planning, sounded uncertain even about the nature of the master plan.
"I don't know what this master plan is going to say, because I'm not a master planner," Mr. Voelker said.
The lack of a redevelopment plan and the state of the city's ruined neighborhoods have some worried that the city government has lapsed into the pattern of inactivity for which Mr. Nagin was criticized before last month's election.
"The city desperately needs leadership on planning and housing issues," an editorial in The Times-Picayune said last week. "Without strong guidance from City Hall, crucial decisions about the future of New Orleans will be made by default. Or they won't be made at all."
In occasional public appearances, the mayor has voiced characteristic optimism. "Today is another great day in the city of New Orleans," he said Wednesday after the A.F.L.-C.I.O. announced a $700 million housing and economic development grant. He called the grant "an incredible tipping point," but offered no specifics about which neighborhoods he was committed to rebuilding.
The mayor's flurry of appearances before the election has been sharply curtailed. Streets remain abandoned, sometimes for miles, and blocks are carpeted with trash.
"We do need to have a clear vision from the mayor," said Oliver Thomas, the president of the New Orleans City Council. "Tell us what you're for, or not for. We don't know exactly what neighborhoods he's committed to, kind of committed to, and not committed to."
Mr. Thomas added, "We don't know specifically what the roles of the neighborhoods are going to be in the new New Orleans. Can people build anywhere? Can they live anywhere? Are they going to be funded? We don't know that."
In the absence of a redevelopment vision from the city, residents are pushing ahead on their own, a process likely to be accelerated late this summer when washed-out homeowners begin receiving checks from the federal housing money appropriated by Congress. Whether homeowners who are rebuilding in ruined areas will remain isolated pioneers or will receive city services is still unclear.
A few badly damaged neighborhoods have undertaken their own planning efforts. "The initiatives for planning and rebuilding are coming from the neighborhoods themselves," said Pam Dashiell, a member of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, in the city's Ninth Ward.
The Broadmoor district, with a mix of incomes and races, has plans for converting abandoned dwellings to community use and wants to provide housing incentives for police officers and firefighters.
But few neighborhoods are as far along, and none of the efforts are being centrally coordinated.
During the recent election campaign, Mr. Nagin and most of his rivals carefully avoided pronouncements on the fate of specific neighborhoods, tiptoeing through a volatile issue that had many residents on edge. But now, critics say, the mayor does not have politics to use as an excuse.
"The election is over, and it's time for governing," said State Representative Karen Carter, Democrat of New Orleans. "He's the mayor, and he has to show that level of leadership and engagement."
Within a week of his re-election on May 20, Mr. Nagin announced that two ex-rivals from the campaign — both lawyers, one a Republican and the other a Democrat — would be aiding him in urgent planning for the city's future. In 100 days, there would be a plan, it was announced.
Since then nothing has been heard from either lawyer. One was traveling outside the country this week, and the other did not return calls.
In the interview on Friday, Mr. Nagin indicated that the entire city west of the Industrial Canal would be rebuilt, a more optimistic projection than some urban planners had given.
As for areas east of the canal, the mayor said that the prosperous New Orleans East area would probably come back and that the flattened homes of the Lower Ninth Ward would probably be replaced by what he called "multilevel living facilities," presumably apartment buildings.
Success, he said, is more likely to be defined by what residents do than what the editorial board of The Times-Picayune says. The city's current population of 220,000 is ahead of most projections, he said, and was made possible by his administration's willingness to provide building permits to almost all who asked, in any neighborhood.
"I think that most citizens can make intelligent decisions," Mr. Nagin said. "This city will be rebuilt. Most areas will come back. There are people who are rebuilding."
Mr. Nagin appears to be counting on a strategy that involves large-scale economic development projects, like one unveiled two weeks ago that called for demolishing a decrepit downtown shopping center and the city's frayed municipal complex and replacing them with a National Jazz Center set in a 20-acre park. Such development promises, largely unfulfilled, were a feature of Mr. Nagin's first term in office.
As for the planning body created after the hurricane, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, little has been heard of it for months. The commission's tough plan, unveiled in January and now apparently dead, called for a four-month building moratorium in the hardest-hit neighborhoods while they proved their "viability." Ultimately a new public agency would have been empowered to seize land in areas that failed the challenge, and the city's footprint was to shrink.
Mr. Nagin, in the face of a public outcry, almost immediately rejected the plan.
Ray Manning, a local architect who played a key role in early planning efforts after the storm and who was a co-chairman of the mayor's neighborhood planning committee, said this week that he had withdrawn from the process.
"I said I would not speak about this issue any longer," he said.
At a conference at Tulane University this month, Mr. Manning had harsh criticism for the lack of guidance from City Hall.
For his part, the mayor in a brief appearance before reporters this week said of the neighborhood planning process, "That's just about completed."
Naming Mr. Thomas, the City Council president, as a collaborator, Mr. Nagin said, "There's a structure we'll be announcing in the next day or so, and we'll move that forward." But Mr. Thomas responded: "I don't know what the structure is. We've talked about some possibilities, but nothing definitively."
Now, 10 weeks before the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, some residents are losing patience.
"We are entitled to hear something now," said LaToya Cantrell, head of the Broadmoor Improvement Association. "We've been waiting. It's nine months out. We need to know what's going on. We need to know what the process is. The center of my community has yet to return, and this is nine months out. This is ridiculous. This is frustrating."

Interestingly, we here have become complacent, as one might expect. I remember feeling really, really ANGRY about the lack of a plan months ago. Now, I feel fatalistic, as if we all knew this was coming and should have expected it. You on the outside may wonder why we don't DEMAND change, or why we don't change things ourselves. But when we witness NOTHING CHANGING, we feel defeated, not motivated. Plus, our mayor is a WORTHLESS TURD who has done NOTHING in the interest of his own comfort. One of the strongest arguments for his ousting was that he simply NEEDS A BREAK. He feels as defeated as we do! How can this man make it happen for us!?

It's like my brother said. What we really need is a BENEVOLENT DICTATOR WITH REALLY GREAT IDEAS. Help!